Monday, June 29, 2015

Harrisonburg's Shameful "Urban Renewal" of the '50's and '60's



October 2000
                       eightyone magazine

                       by Lauren McKinney

               Forty years ago, in the name
                of urban renewal, Harrisonburg
               bulldozed the heart of its black
               community, including homes,
                businesses and churches.
               Some say the city never recovered.
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

These  are the opening lines of one of the most powerful exposes you will ever read about how Harrisonburg gutted the northeast community 55 years ago and forever changed the landscape and the lifestyle of members of its African-American minority.

Here's the link to the powerful must-read piece written by Lauren McKinney for eightyone magazine in 2000:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Amazing Grace--The Amish And The A.M.E.

In October of 2006 the entire world was moved by the unconditional love shown by Amish families and congregations traumatized by the Nickel Mines School shootings in Bart Township in Lancaster County. Five innocent girls were killed and five others seriously injured in this tragic incident, and the Amish response was unbelievably gracious. 

Recently we have been equally moved by the amazing grace shown by members and friends of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in the wake of the senseless massacre of nine of their leaders and loved ones.

The A.M.E. and Amish faith communities may seem very different from each other, but what they have in common is their allegiance to Jesus and their resulting commitment to love even their worst enemies. It is for this fundamental reason that they refuse to return evil for evil.

Many of us, in the face of such unthinkable injustice, would question the very existence of a loving God. How could an all-powerful and compassionate Creator allow such travesties?

On the other hand, how but for the grace of God could ordinary human beings respond with such good?

Here are some of the statements by members of families of those slain in Charleston, from the Washington Post:

Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance
“I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”

Relative of Myra Thompson
“I would just like him to know that, to say the same thing that was just said: I forgive him and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that He can change him and change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be okay.”

Felicia Sanders, mother of Tywanza Sanders
“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with welcome arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful  people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts and I’ll, I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza Sanders was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. … May God have mercy on you.”

Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of Daniel Simmons
“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul, is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win. And I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.”

“That was my sister, and I’d like to thank you on behalf of my family for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”

Here's a link to another post on a forgiveness that is based on repentance as compared to a demonstration of Christ-like love for even the unrepentant, as in the case of the Amish and A.M.E. communities.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Valley Family Forum Airs Program On Local Justice Reform

You can listen to previous programs here
I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by Dean Welty, Rita Dunaway and Dr. John Sloop for their weekly Crossroads radio program. Sponsored by the Valley Family Forum, this particular segment of Crossroads is on criminal justice reform, and will be aired this Sunday morning on several local radio stations.

I deeply appreciate the Forum paying attention to this topic in addition to such themes as religious liberty, the sanctity of marriage and protecting the lives of the unborn. I see this as a good example of how people of faith can work together on issues of mutual concern.

The program to be aired this weekend covers topics ranging from the need for improved mental health services at our local jail to our nation's tendency to incarcerate a far larger percentage of our population than any other country on earth. We also pay attention to the teachings of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets regarding the restoration of offenders, release for prisoners and ministering to "the least of these" who are increasingly ostracized by our society.

You can tune in Sunday to WBTX/AM (1470) at 7:30 a.m., WSVA/AM (550) and WSVA/FM (92.1) at 8:30; WHBG/ESPN (1360) at 9:00; and WNLR/AM (1150) at 11:30. Crossroads is also aired at 4 pm Saturdays on WBTX, and you can listen online here any time. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Choosing and Cherishing

At our 50th anniversary celebration a year ago
I remember talking with someone once who was debating whether to include a grown step child in his will. He wanted to make sure everything about the “home place” would “stay in the family”, and didn’t feel good about the idea of having an unrelated person get part of the family inheritance.

I couldn't resist pointing out that every family starts as a union of two people who are not biologically related but people who have bonded together by choice. They do this in fulfillment of  the Biblical text, “For this reason shall a person leave father and mother (with whom they are biologically related), and shall cleave to their spouse (with whom they are not biologically related), and the two shall become united, as one.” 

Then, of course, this union of two people can produce offspring who in turn will later leave them to form other unions. And so life gets passed on, from generation to generation.

Paul Peachy writes that typically our strongest ties are not our biological ones (those that are unwilled) but the covenanted ones that are willed, or chosen.

Two kinds of “blessed ties that bind our hearts ” are our marriages and baptisms. In each case we form covenant bonds that have the potential of blessing us forever.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

JusticeWatch #3: Ex-Offender Mother of Four Banished From Lunenburg County

In October of last year Cindy Settle, 38, returned to her invalid mother's home in Kenbridge, Virginia, after having served a 33 month sentence for a felony charge. She is the younger sister of a model state prison inmate with whom I correspond.

From the start Cindy began searching in earnest for steady work, taking whatever odd jobs she could find, cleaning and repainting the inside of her mother's house and working at getting custody back of her four children.

Meanwhile her two older sons, age 16 and 18, were apprehended on petty larceny charges, which resulted in a sheriff coming to her mother's home to search for stolen items. While they found none, they did discover a bottle of liquor Cindy had hidden in the garage and which her sons had gotten into while their mother was away.

Cindy, realizing the seriousness of her bad judgment and faced with the possibility of having to return to prison for contributing to the delinquency of a minor (a probation violation) agreed to a plea that included her having to leave the area and not setting foot in Lunenburg County again, in spite of her widowed mother's desperate need for her help.

Needless to say, both she and her mother were devastated by this outcome, but Cindy, unable to afford expensive legal fees, felt she had no other choice but to take the plea as a way of avoiding having to do more prison time.

The good news is that Cindy recently found a $8.50 an hour job as a cook at a restaurant in Blackstone in nearby Nottoway County. The bad news is that the only housing she could find and afford for herself and her three youngest children still at home, ages 16, 12 and 6, was in a mobile home park in Mecklenburg County, a 45-minute drive from her job. Meanwhile she is looking for housing closer to her work.

Had she been able to stay at her mother's place she could have had affordable place to live, been able to offer her mother some much needed care and support, and her mother, in turn, could have provided some help and supervision with the children while Cindy was at work.

Just another example of how the criminal justice system often harms and divides families rather than helping them remain as intact and functional as possible.


6/29/15 update: In a court hearing Tuesday, 6/23, a judge gave Cindy permission to drive through Lunenburg County to her work, in spite of the Commonwealth's Attorney's objections.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Life Well Lived--Alene Yoder, 1929-2015

four generations, photo courtesy of Mary Ann (Yoder) Yutzy
While we were watching round her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn't see;
She saw Old Death...
Coming like a falling star.
But Death didn't frighten Sister [Alene];
He looked to her like a welcome friend.

Alma Jean and I were privileged to be at her sister Alene's bedside at the Country Rest Home near Greenwood, Delaware, just an hour before she died June 16, 2015. Members of Alene's family and other loved ones had joined together in singing hymns and offering prayers for their mother, grandmother and friend who was in the last stage of a long, loving and well lived life.

The following is from Alene's obituary:

Alene Elizabeth (Wert) Yoder was born January 1, 1929 in Bunkertown, PA, to the late Michael and Alma (Lauver) Wert. She chose early to follow Jesus, and the rest of her life was defined by that decision.  At sixteen, she moved to Delaware to work, met the love of her life, Mark Yoder, married him and lived in the Greenwood area for the rest of her years.  She worked side by side with her husband, first as a farmer’s wife and then wherever needed in her husband’s business when he became the owner and administrator of The Country Rest Home.  She also served as a pastor’s wife, and provided care for handicapped adults in her home.  Through all the years, the thing she did best was being an incredible Mama and Grandma.  She loved life and babies and birds and reading.  

Alene was one of my wife's favorite older sisters, deeply loved and greatly missed.

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

And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn't feel no chill.
And death began to ride again--
Up beyond the evening star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister [Alene]
On the loving breast of Jesus.

And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a-saying: Take your rest,
Take your rest.

Weep not--weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus. 

- from James Weldon Johnson's "Go Down Death"   

Here's a link to Alene's oldest daughter Mary Ann's blog:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

An Alumnus Of The Only Old Order Amish High School Ever

Drawing of Amish church and school by former student Eli Miller
I spent Saturday at a reunion with 47 alumni of the church-sponsored Amish high school near Stuarts Draft that I attended from 1951-1956. Its one classroom, as shown on the right of the picture, accommodated up to 25 students in grades 8-10, all attending in response to a newly enforced Virginia state requirement that all children must be in school until age 16.

"Hilltop School", as it later came to be affectionately nicknamed, has the distinction of being the only Old Order Amish "high school" to have ever existed. It was established in 1950 as an alternative to local Amish teens having to be bussed to a large consolidated high school near Fishersville, eight miles northeast of the public elementary school in Stuarts Draft where most of the Amish then attended. Some of these high school buses were driven by senior students, which added to the fear of their parents and church leaders that the overall effect of a Woodrow Wilson High School experience on their youth would be negative.

The Stuarts Draft Amish School closed its doors in 1966 as the Old Order group dwindled in size and the newly formed "Beachy Amish" (also known as "Amish Mennonite") group in the community established a school for all of grades 1-10. But during its 16 years of existence a total of 144 students had attended "Hilltop" for from several months to three years, depending on when they celebrated their sixteenth birthday. My next older brother Eli, who like some others who had already dropped out of school before compulsory attendance was enforced, attended only two months.

His instructor--and mine for my first two years--was our older brother Sanford. He, like each of the teachers at Hilltop, was a young adult from the church without college training, but they all worked hard at providing us with some solid post-elementary education in subjects like English, math, history. geography, earth science, nature study and Bible.

Most of us took our school work seriously, sometimes learning with our teachers, while forming lasting bonds with friends we will never forget. And since 1985 many of us have been getting together every five years to reminisce and to renew old ties.

This year an amazing total of 47 attended of the 106 alumni who are still living. And we were told that of the 73 male students who attended, 22 became ordained ministers, and an overwhelming majority of the total of 144 remained active in some church. To my knowledge, none divorced, and some, like myself, later passed our GED exams and went on to pursue higher education.

Not a bad record for the only Older Order Amish high school ever established.

And not surprisingly, none of us seem to regret not having been able to attend Woodrow Wilson High School.

Here's part of a poem, delightful in its simplicity, written for the first school reunion in 1985 by a former student, Sylvia Miller Byler. In it she describes experiences reminiscent of an era long past:

Nostalgic thoughts still come to mind
As school days I remember.
When the school bell pealed aloud
Those first days of September.

Our teacher, Rachel, sat erect
Behind her desk each day.
A smile of warmth she gave to us
In studies or at play.

The lessons taught were good for us,
We labored o'er each task
Until we conquered diagrams
And algebra at last.

I always loved the fragrance
Of the blooming apple trees
Growing 'round the old school house,
Shimmering in the breeze.

Some evenings after school we'd go
With errands to be run,
Stopping by a neighbor's home
Till Adam's bus did come.

We'd walk down to the Stutzman's
And get some eggs for mother,
Or visit busy Annie Mast
And buy some fresh churned butter.

The special hour of extra play
Each Friday afternoon,
A game of prisoner's base, or ball
How could it end so soon?

Sometimes a ball would take a left,
Hit attic window glass.
Gasps of wonder could be heard,
Someone went up there fast!

While yonder by the road
Some friendly folks drove by
And waved a hand at seeing you
or watched you catch a fly.

John B. Yoder with his horse,
Then Norman with some corn.
Most of these have passed away
To their eternal home.

But memories of these former days
Are fresh as early morn,
The annual outing we would take
At the close of each school term.

Also the nature study hikes
On balmy afternoons
Were full of venture, when we found
Some bird's nest or cocoons.

Much water's gurgled 'neath the bridge
Since those good times have been,
So it's extra good to see
Each one home again!

Some of us have aged a bit,
Some tints of gray we see,
With wrinkles 'round our faces
Both on you and me.

If these old stomping grounds could speak,
They'd tell a hundred stories,
Or write a book of poetry,
Perhaps some allegories.

If God continues adding years
On to your life and mine,
There's still some work for us to do
These next few years of time.

He's called us out to different fields
Of service and vocation,
Thanks be to God for nurtured roots
Begun at this location.

The school of life keeps going on,
There are lessons yet to learn,
From the great and heavenly Teacher,
Until his soon return.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Is The Unity Candle The Right Metaphor?

I like the symbolism of lighting the ceremonial unity candle at a wedding, but on one condition. That the bride and groom don't then extinguish their own individual candles.

It's true that when we wed we leave our parents, unite with our spouse, and become one (united). But that doesn't mean we cease being our own unique and individual selves. In other words, in marriage we become a bonded pair made up of two distinct persons who will forever enrich and challenge each other. We bring together a wonderful diversity of gifts and perspectives to the relationship, as well as our own set of problems. And if, God forbid, we were ever to separate we would take each of those personal issues with us. We alone own them.

As a marriage counselor, I've become more and more convinced that not all problems in a marriage are marriage problems, but are individual issues and deficits we bring to the marriage and that greatly impact the relationship. So when I do relationship counseling I think of myself as having three clients, spouse A, spouse B, and the spousal pair. But often couples come for help thinking that all of the problems are the equal responsibility of both, that they belong to the pair.

Some are, of course, just as two partners in any shared enterprise begin to have issues they have a shared 50-50 responsibility to fix. But whatever is in their individual problem areas are theirs alone to be responsible for, with God's help and whatever other help they may need.

Another tendency, human nature being what it is, is to becoming fixated on fixing the other person's problems. But that's where we have the least power to bring about change. But if on the other hand we give priority to our own growth and repair we can bring about an immediate and impressive amount of change in the relationship.

Here's a list of mature God-like traits we would each do well to work on:

___Love—I am gracious and generous toward others in spite of their actions.
___Joy—I demonstrate a contagiously positive spirit, even in trying circumstances.
___Peace—I experience a deep sense of inner well-being in spite of stresses in my life.
___Patience—I have the calm and strength to endure (hold on, not give up) even under stress.
___Kindness—I consistently show respect and care toward others, no matter how I’m treated.
___Goodness—I am able to act positively toward others, for their good, even when I am tired or     am tempted to hurt them or get even.
___Faithfulness—I have an unwavering commitment to others’ good and to stable relationships.
___Gentleness—I operate from the kind of strength that keeps me from resorting to aggressive or desperate actions, even when tested.
___Self-control—I am able to live a calm, controlled, and well-managed life.

- based on Galatians 5:22-23

How might each of these really light up our lives and transform our relationships?

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Modest Proposal: Let's Do All We Can To Help Offenders Maintain Employment

One of the more negative effects of incarceration is having workers lose the jobs they need to support themselves and their families. Whenever the link between someone's employment and those who depend on it is shredded, a host of social problems result that impact us all. In addition, offenders are almost sure to experience difficulties in getting employment for the rest of their lives.
     So for non-violent offenders with steady jobs or who are in school full time, everything possible should be done to enable them to maintain their employment or their studies, uninterrupted, while they make restitution for their wrongs.
     This means, in the first place, that unless offenders are clearly a danger to others, they should be granted immediate bail while awaiting trial. Their flight risk, after all, is greatly reduced by the fact that they have to report to work or school every day.
     Then, if convicted of a crime, they could be given a fine and/or a restitution plan and be assigned to probation. Other options are to be granted work release, placed under house arrest with GPS monitoring, or be allowed to serve their time on weekends or on their days off. In that way they could fulfill their responsibility to society while continuing to provide for their families--and all at greatly reduced costs to the taxpayer.
     The difference this approach would make in keeping families intact and self-supporting would be huge. It would require far fewer of the social programs and children and family services that typically come into play when someone is incarcerated, and avoid the problem of having to again find employment upon reentry.
     Christopher C. Thompson, in an article in the March 2015 Ministry magazine, writes, "The irony of inmates not being able to find jobs after they have been released is evident in that all of them work while they are imprisoned. They are forced to work for pennies. So basically, the prison system denies them the right to provide for their families while the prison benefits from their labor. That is de facto slavery. Or, at the very least, it is a revamped form of convict leasing."
     In Virginia we are paying some $26,000 a year per inmate to keep people locked up and provided for in veritable schools for crime, more than enough to provide each of them with tuition for a good college education.
     Does that really make sense?

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Would You Have Fought For The Rebel Cause?

In June of 1861 a Confederate army captain interrupted the Sunday morning service at the Weavers Mennonite Church just west of Harrisonburg with a chilling order. All males between the ages of 18 and 45 were to report for military service that coming week.

The pacifist congregation was traumatized as their worst fears about the recently formed secessionist government were confirmed.

From what we know about what happened next, many Mennonites and Brethren under extreme pressure did respond to orders and became a part of Confederate army units during that summer, although few saw active duty at that time. Then in the fall many were given passes to return home to help harvest their crops, after which they were to return to their units.

While some did, others went into hiding or went to live with relatives in the North or emigrated to the West. And still others who rejoined their units under duress, according to the late Harry Brunk's "Mennonites in Virginia", simply took a pledge to never to shoot an enemy combatant.

One such enlistee actually informed his captain that he and others would be obedient in every way possible except to inflict harm on a fellow human being. This resulted in their being threatened with being court martialed and executed if they didn't take correct aim and shoot to kill when ordered to do so.

One local Mennonite, Christian Good, when asked by his officer after a subsequent battle whether he had fired his gun, replied that he didn't see anything to shoot at. He was asked, "Didn't you see all those Yankees over there?" To which Christian replied, "But they are people. I don't shoot people."

According to Brunk's history, a frustrated General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson wrote, "There lives a people in the Valley of Virginia that are not hard to bring to the army. While there they are obedient to their officers. Nor is it difficult to get them to take aim, but it is impossible to get them to take correct aim. I therefore think it better to leave them at their homes that they may produce supplies for the army."

The moral dilemmas the Civil War posed for peace-loving Mennonites and Dunkards (Church of the Brethren) were many.

1) Foremost among them was the fact that their faith forbade them from taking part in any kind of insurrection against a duly formed government. Thus any rebellion, especially against the United States, which had afforded them the right to practice their faith as they saw fit, was unthinkable. The following is a part of their 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith:

XIII. Of the Office of the Secular Authority  

We believe and confess that God has ordained power and authority, and set them to punish the evil, and protect the good, to govern the world, and maintain countries and cities, with their subjects, in good order and regulation; and that we, therefore, may not despise, revile, or resist the same, but must acknowledge and honor them as the ministers of God, and be subject and obedient unto them, yea, ready for all good works, especially in that which is not contrary to the law, will, and commandment of God; also faithfully pay custom, tribute, and taxes, and to render unto them their dues, even also as the Son of God taught and practiced, and commanded His disciples to do; that we, moreover, must constantly and earnestly pray to the Lord for them and their welfare, and for the prosperity of the country, that we may dwell under its protection, earn our livelihood, and lead a quiet, peaceable life, with all godliness and honesty; and, furthermore, that the Lord would recompense unto them, here, and afterwards in eternity, all benefits, liberty, and favor which we enjoy here under their praiseworthy administration. Rom. 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; I Pet. 2:17; Matt. 22:21; 17:27; I Tim. 2:1. 

2) In addition, Mennonites believed that to take up weapons of war was contrary to the teachings of Christ, as also stated in their Confession:

Article XIV: On Revenge

As regards revenge, that is, to oppose an enemy with the sword, we believe and confess that the Lord Christ has forbidden and set aside to His disciples and followers all revenge and retaliation, and commanded them to render to no one evil for evil, or cursing for cursing, but to put the sword into the sheath, or, as the prophets have predicted, to beat the swords into ploughshares. Matt. 5:39, 44; Rom. 12:14; I Pet. 3:9; Isa. 2:4; Micah 4:3; Zech. 9:8, 9.
From this we understand that therefore, and according to His example, we must not inflict pain, harm, or sorrow upon any one, but seek the highest welfare and salvation of all men, and even, if necessity require it, flee for the Lord's sake from one city or country into another, and suffer the spoiling of our goods; that we must not harm any one, and, when we are smitten, rather turn the other cheek also, than take revenge or retaliate. Matt. 5:39.
And, moreover, that we must pray for our enemies, feed and refresh them whenever they are hungry or thirsty, and thus convince them by well-doing, and overcome all ignorance. Rom. 12:19, 20.

3) Furthermore, even though slavery wasn't the direct cause of the war, Mennonites and Brethren did not own slaves, and regarded slavery as advocated by the Confederacy as being totally contrary to the will of God. While the Brethren did not believe in creeds or confessions, and the Mennonite Confession didn't directly address the issue of human chattel, neither group felt there was the slightest question about whether the institution of slavery could be justified.

As unpopular as their position was 154 years ago, few of us today believe Mennonites, Brethren and others who opposed taking up arms against the Union were wrong to do so. But how would we respond if we faced a similar dilemma today?

Here's a link to information about a local drama being performed this weekend on the impact of the Civil War on local peace churches. Don't miss it!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Hundred Years Later, "Stormy Banks" Recreates Local Civil War Trauma

Enemy invaders are offered some Mennonite pie
The Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center will present “Jordan’s Stormy Banks”, a drama in two acts, at the Eastern Mennonite University MainStage Theater at 7:30 pm June 12, 13 and 14, plus a 3 pm matinee performance on June 14.

“Jordan’s Stormy Banks” is an original production commissioned by the Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center and written by Liz Beachy Hansen. This year's production is directed by Alisha Hubert, and tells the  story of a Shenandoah Valley family’s struggles during the Civil War and how they deal with conflicts that result from competing loyalties to faith, family and nation.

I have seen this drama twice, and strongly recommend it for anyone interested in the Mennonite and Brethren experience during this tumultuous time a century ago. It's well worth the price of admission, and you'll want to invite your family and friends to join you.

Tickets are $15/adults, $12/seniors, students and groups of 10 or more, and $6/children 7-12 years, and may be purchased online or by calling (540) 438-1275.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Incarceration Education: (Note: The $26,000 Annual Tuition Includes Room And Board)

Rockingham Harrisonburg Regional "University"
What if jails were designed to educate instead of just incarcerate?

Each week volunteers come to our local jail to offer courses on employment, finances, parenting, and anger management, along with a couple of Bible studies and two AA groups. But space is limited, as are the number of guards available to escort inmates to and from classes (in handcuffs, as required here), so only a limited number can participate.

On the darker side, jails are also known to an have an underground "school of crime" curriculum that includes offerings such as the following:

Introduction to Criminality 101 This popular course, team taught by experienced professionals, covers such basics as fundamentals in shoplifting, the fine art of breaking and entering, advanced scams and con artistry, and how to avoid detection by law enforcement.

Promiscuity 201  There are plenty of inmates willing to share their sexual exploits with whomever enrolls, spinning endless tales about how to make out as though there were no tomorrow, how to get whatever you want in bed from whomever you wish, and how to cheat shamelessly and get by with it.

TV Trash and Trivia 301  Mindless junk food for the brain is beamed into each cell from dawn to well into the night. While offering little in the form of worthwhile education, television serves as a form of inmate pacifier, a mind numbing sedative in an environment that is clearly crazy-making.

Bumming Off The System 401  Both inside and outside of jail there is no shortage of peer education on how to use and abuse every possible governmental and charitable agency. On the inside, inmates are provided free room and board at a cost to those on the outside of $26,000 a year, not a great example of how most of the real world works.

Advanced Drug and Alcohol Abuse Seminar  This well attended class is available every day year round. It offers multiple and unimaginable ways of getting high, hints on how get started in the prescription drug trade--and into the even more lucrative drug dealing business--and details of all of the immediate steps addicted instructors will take to get the bottle, needle, and/or pharmaceutical fixes they've been craving night and day since being incarcerated.

OK, since we don't really want that, what if we could provide an affordable and creative educational alternative for inmates?

Here's a modest proposal: 

Develop a library of DVD courses that could be shown on portable TV monitors available on each floor every weekday from nine to five, on subjects such as the following:

Conversational Spanish or English
Basic composition, writing
US or world history
Math and science
History documentaries
Communication and relationship skills
Health and fitness
English literature

The possibilities are endless, with a library of resources put together by interested members of the community and with weekly selections made by groups of individuals in their respective cell units. Viewing would be totally voluntary, and any homework and note taking would likewise be optional, but participants would be encouraged to develop  a portfolio of notes on each DVD lesson or series of lessons covered. Some free manila folders could be provided for this purpose, with additional folders and writing supplies available through the commissary.

Students could also be encouraged to create their own written "exams" (with correct answers) that would summarize the main points covered in each topic series and which would be included in their portfolio. Periodically, each person's work could be reviewed by community volunteers who would offer critiques and commendations of each student's efforts. Completed folders could then be used by inmates upon their release to show prospective employers and others what they have learned and skills they have gained on their own initiative while incarcerated.

In addition, jail staff could produce a kind of monthly "citizenship report card" which would note whatever other ways an inmate has demonstrated good citizenship and modeled good use of their time while behind bars. These would be provided by request to add to an inmate's portfolio, for him or her to use in whatever ways they chose upon release. Perhaps other incentives could be offered as well for those who demonstrated exemplary behaviors.

None of this would be a panacea, of course, and the far better option would be to invest in more classes and job training on the outside. But this could be a giant improvement over the endless boredom and waste of time and creativity involved in just being warehoused for weeks and months on end.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bringing Up Children Who Love The Church

Christmas program at the Powhatan Mennonite Church
I had the privilege of speaking this past Sunday morning at one of my favorite congregations, the Powhatan Mennonite Church just west of Richmond. Over a dozen members of their congregation were former students of mine at Eastern Mennonite High School, some of whom are now grandparents. Wonderful and warm people!

The following is the outline of a discussion I led with them during their 10 am Sunday School hour:

It Takes A Whole Congregation—Bringing Up Children Who Love The Church

As a part of a free church tradition we believe each of our children has the right (and the responsibility) to decide when, where or even whether they become baptized members of the church. Our major responsibility, however, shared with fellow members of the congregation, is to be the most Christ-like examples and teachers for them we can possibly be, as follows:

1. Our own lives are demonstrations of love, joy, peace, patience and other good Spirit fruit.

2. We cultivate a warm, positive relationship with our children by being good listeners and playful friends as well as good role models and disciplinarians.

3. We ourselves set a joyful and faithful example of the kind of loyalty and service in the church that we want our children to demonstrate.

4. We are in agreement with our spouse (and with other parents in the congregation as much as possible) in setting reasonable expectations and guidelines for regular church attendance and youth group involvement.

5. We plan some vacation and other family activities (service projects, attending church wide assemblies, etc.,) that help our children understand more of the positive aspects of church life and service.

6. We enjoy regular fellowship, hospitality and service relationships with other church members and church leaders who are positive role models.

7. We limit, monitor and have frequent conversations about our children’s use of screen-based media and entertainment.

8. We negotiate reasonable agreements with our children about their church attendance and involvement without either yielding ground on the priority we place on church or resorting to ongoing power struggles.

9. As our children gain the right and responsibility to make major life choices (college, career, friendships, etc.) as young adults, we also respect their responsibility to make their own choices about church membership and involvement.

10. With our baptized children we recognize they are accountable not only to us parents for their actions and decisions, but to fellow believers in their church family, so our discipline begins to be based more on the Matthew 18:15-18 and Galatians 6:1-5 member/member model rather than the previous parent/child model.

Here's a link to audio versions of the above session and of the morning sermon, "Choosing and Cherishing".