Thursday, July 30, 2015

How Government-Run Health Care Just Saved Us Over $50,000

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the Medicare Program
Alma Jean had a heart catheterization done at RMH Sentara in May, and learned she needed to have two stents put in due to an obstructed artery. This resulted in an overnight hospital stay and a total bill of $65,374.55 (just $10,000.00 less than we paid for our house 27 years ago).

According to our statement Medicare paid $12,374.07 of the bill and Everence, our supplemental health insurance, covered the rest of the allowable amount, another $1,297.46. The remainder was labeled a "Discount or Ineligible Amount", a grand total of $51,703.02, for which RMH Sentara was not reimbursed.

I'm neither a medical nor a financial expert, so I may not fully understand all of this, but it does raise the question of whether hospitals seriously overcharge for their services.

For example, of the 20 separate items in our statement, the two main procedures, "percutaneous transcatheter placement of drug-eluting intracoronary stent(s), with coronary angioplasty when performed" were listed at $20,629.00 each, or $41,258.00. Then there was a $2,344.30 charge for the injection of one 1mg of bivalirudin, among other 18 items. Yet the total amount Medicare and Everence paid for everything was just $12,227.26, representing a huge saving.

Makes me wonder whether a single payer government-run health care plan would really be such a bad thing. My oldest brother Sanford, who moved with his family to Costa Rica in 1965, doesn't think so. When he suffered a serious heart attack over a year ago,he had three options: 1) Do nothing medically, and trust God to heal him; 2) Pay for all of his care at a private hospital; 3) Utilize Costa Rica's "Social Security" program which provides  health care for all. Cases are prioritized in terms of urgency, but the care he received through this third option was adequate and he is doing well.

Sometimes a government can accomplish some good things, and Medicare appears to be an example of such a program. Maybe it's one all citizens should have access to, not just us fortunate older ones.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Foretaste Of Heaven In Harrisburg, PA

Mennonite World Conference photo
Some 7,500 Mennonite and members of related Anabaptist groups met for the Global Assembly of the Mennonite World Conference at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg July 20-26. As a participant in the last two days of the week-long celebration I felt transported into a new world that felt a lot like heaven.

1. As in heaven, members in the Jesus movement are a part of a global community. 
MWC photo

"Your blood has ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation. 
And you have caused them to become
    a Kingdom of priests for our God."
- Revelation 5:9b-10 NLB 
MWC Global Assembly represented a wonderful mosaic of languages, colors and cultures. A hundred years ago most Mennonites were of ethnic Swiss, Dutch or German origin, but today the majority are a part of the Global South, in numerous African and southeastern Asian countries.

I was blessed by workshop discussions with people from other parts of the globe and by numerous informal conversations with them. I'll long remember pastor Samue Masku of India telling me about the joy he felt in connecting with fellow believers here from all over the world.

2. As in heaven followers of Jesus celebrate the ecstasy of God's dream for creation coming true.

MWC photo
And then I heard every creature 
in heaven and on earth 
and under the earth and in the sea. 
They sang:
“Blessing and honor and glory and power
    belong to the one sitting on the throne
    and to the Lamb forever and ever.”
-Revelation 5:13 (NLB) 

For me the music in the Arena was a truly "ecstatic" experience ("ek" meaning from and "stasis" place). In celebrations of song we were transported to a future time and place in which God's will is a reality on earth as it is in heaven, when every voice breaks out in celebrations of salvation from evil and oppression. 

No one will forget the gifted international choir that led us in worship, the overwhelming experience of 7000 voices singing "I'll Fly Away", or the incredible voice of soloist Nohemy Garcia singing one of her own compositions on Friday night.   (55.0)

3. As in heaven, followers of Jesus experience a unity that transcends all their differences.
I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  
And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, 
and the Lamb is its light.  
The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory.  
Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.  
And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city.

- Revelation 21:22-26 (NLB) 

Through our narrow, myopic lens, we fail to grasp the breadth and scope of God's love.. And we naively assume we have all of God's truth distilled in our creeds and statements of faith. But at Harrisburg we were able, at least for a few short days, to envision an often divided people reclaiming our oneness as a part of God's worldwide, eternal family.

4. Yet not everything about MWC reflected "as it is in heaven".
I was still painfully aware of some of the stark economic disparities that remain between attendees from the affluent North and the Global South. In a conversation with Pastor Busani Sibanda of Zimbabwe, he shared with me how difficult it was to provide for their family of three daughters, for whom tuition alone was $600 each for each of their three school terms in a year. On a meager pastor's salary and whatever else he can earn from painting houses on the side, he and his wife constantly face a struggle for survival. Yet they are a part of the same Mennonite family as North Americans with spacious homes, six-figure incomes and three-car garages.

So while we daily pray for God's will to be done on earth as it is done in heaven, we often fail to do our part to make that a reality.

Look, God’s home is now among his people! 
God will live with them, and they will be his people. 
God himself will be with them. 
God will wipe every tear from their eyes, 
and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. 
All these things are gone forever.
- Revelation 21:3-4 (NLB) 

"Our religion is a worked out religion," declared closing speaker Bruxy Cavey of Canada. "We love God only to the extent that we love our neighbor. We can never separate the two." Or as Pope Francis is quoted as saying, "You pray for the poor and the hungry, then you feed them. That's how prayer works." 

Held every six years, MWC, last met in Paraguay in 2009 and is set to convene in Indonesia in 2021. Or maybe next time in the New Jerusalem.
To see live streaming of the worship services, photo and video galleries, articles and blogs visit the Assembly website. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Women At MRRJ Voice Grievances

Middle River Regional Jail
Some inmates at the Middle River Regional Jail in Augusta County are housed in open dorms with over thirty bunks each, with almost no privacy. 

When on lock down those inmates are forced to stay at their beds--without showers and with only occasional bathroom breaks--sometimes for days at a time. Noise is constant and fights break out frequently, according to first hand reports.

 I recently received the following letter dated July 5, signed by twenty women at the Middle River Regional Jail and addressed to the Department of Corrections in Richmond. I submitted a copy, without the names, to MJJR and offered to post any response they might have, as I have no way of confirming the specifics of each of their complaints. The author of the letter, slated to be transferred to a state prison, has been moved. 

 Here are some of their complaints, in their own words:

Department of Corrections
P. O. Box 26963
Richmond, VA 23261-6963
re: Middle River Regional Jail

To whom it may concern:

This letter is in reference to the above jail, Middle River Regional Jail in Staunton, Virginia. DOC really needs to evaluate this facility.

There is an inmate who has been here two weeks. She has lupus and cancer, and still has not received the medications she is required to take. Her family has called and spoken with someone here asking why she has not received it and they were told that she has, but the only thing she has received is Ibuprofin. She is daily in a lot of pain.

Another inmate has broken her hand in two places. X-rays were done showing that. She was given a gauze wrap and told to take Ibuprofin, but they failed to look at her records to see that she was allergic to it, so she is still suffering. She has constantly asked corrections officers and nurses about what is going on, but still no word. This has been since June 7, 2015. This inmate has served our country and she has made mistakes but she deserves to be treated as a human being.

Another inmate was in line to get her meds and was given a pill in an envelope and the inmate stated that this wasn't her pill. The nurse looked at the envelope and stated it was not hers but said if she had taken it that it would have been her fault. How is that the inmate's fault, when the nurse should be qualified to do her job?

Another inmate was waiting to get her meds and the nurse gave her a 300 mg dose of Lamictal when she was only supposed to get a 200 mg dose. Thankfully the inmate saw that and gave back one of the pills. With this medication the dose should be gradually increased because if not it can cause a rash and cause the inmate to die.

One more inmate on quite a few meds due to a lot of health issues was told by her CO that she needs to just be put down. A lawsuit waiting to happen.

When we inmates here are having periods we constantly have to ask for pads. We have inmates bleed through their clothes and sheets. Getting  replacements on these items is not a quick process and very unsanitary. Why can't each inmate at the beginning of each month be given enough pads to last for the month? Not each inmate has the same flow, and it's a daily process of going to the call box to get our two pads. Also, some inmates require a shower and if we are on lockdown you can forget that.

As to the food situation, the menu repeats every three days, and frankly we wouldn't feed it to our dogs. On Saturdays and Sundays we receive only two meals a day. As far as getting milk with our meals, we only get 3-4 ounces in the morning. We get a lot of Kool-Aid that causes the UTI's here.

Classes are available but there is a lack of coordination and a long waiting list. We thought classes would be once a week, but we have seen only a few people go. If there were were more for inmates to do there would be fewer fights, etc.

We are thankful to have a TV, but in order to watch it you have to purchase a $33 radio plus batteries. We are charged $3 a day ("rent") to be here and but still have to purchase hygiene supplies, so most who leave are left with a hefty balance not being paid. We're not sure what happens to money once inmates are released, but this money could go to programs to rehabilitate inmates.

Everything involving programs is a waiting game. Some inmates are really trying to do better but don't have the means or resources once they are incarcerated. We have sentencing guidelines but it seems like none are being followed and then you have overcrowded jails.

We are all voices and we will continue our quest until we are heard. You will not be the only ones who receive this letter. We will also be sending it to the Governor, Congressmen and to TV and newspaper outlets.

Something needs to be done. Thank you for your time.

(signed by twenty female inmates)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

We Wept When We Remembered (Mt.) Zion

Interior of Mt. Zion Amish Mennonite Church
By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yes, we wept
When we remembered Zion.

We hung our harps
Upon the willows...

- Psalm 137:1-2a NKJV

This past Sunday some fifty of us attended the last worship service of the Mt. Zion Amish Mennonite Church, located along graveled Guthrie Road north of Stuarts Draft.

I, along with my family, had become a charter member of that congregation when it was established in 1955 as an offshoot of the Stuarts Draft (Old Order) Amish Church. The new congregation allowed the use of cars and telephones and aimed at being more open to evangelizing others in the community, though for many years it continued to conduct most of its services in German. I remember being excited about positive changes at Mt. Zion, and recall putting in many hours as a teen joining other in constructing the building that was closed Sunday. 

Exterior view of the Mt. Zion meeting house
In 2012 the ownership of the property was transferred to the trustees of the nearby Pilgrim Christian Fellowship, a somewhat more progressive Amish Mennonite ("Beachy Amish") Church for ongoing upkeep of the church building and the cemetery, where my parents, my older sister Lucy Schrock and niece Miriam Schrock are buried along with other close acquaintances and relatives. The stated reason for the transfer of the deed was Mt. Zion's "diminishing numbers and their aging membership".

Old Order Amish church and school
The same decline in membership had occurred thirty years earlier in the Old Order Amish Church along Tinkling Springs Road, which closed its doors in 1986 and remains vacant today. I was baptized there in 1954 and have fond memories of that church as well, which was less than a mile from our farm.

My brother-in-law Alvin Schrock, 87, was a faithful minister of the Mt. Zion Church for 58 of its sixty years. It was hard for him to speak his farewell on this last Sunday, having served under four bishops and three fellow ministers during the past five decades, and having seen the church go from a thriving congregation of around 50 families to now having only himself and his daughter Barbara Ann left as official members. Ironically, in its latter years, several families who were not of Amish background, but who were drawn to its counter-cultural faith and life, did become a part of the congregation for a time. But eventually members of the Mt. Zion family died, moved elsewhere or joined other churches, including the Pilgrim Christian Fellowship Church on White Hill Road.

At Sunday's service Schrock opened with the words, "We rejoice today even though we  are experiencing trials over things not going as we had desired." He then read from a passage in Paul's letter to the Philippians, "I thank God upon every remembrance of you... I long for you in the deep compassion of Christ... I am confident that the one who began a good work in you will complete it." 

Four other ministers added their own words of both lament and encouragement in the three hour service, urging all of us to remain faithful to the vision and faith of founders and leaders of Mt. Zion. 

One of them read the following words of the prophet Isaiah:

"...the Lord has anointed Me...
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

- from Isaiah 61 NKJV

View of boyhood farm from the Stuarts Draft Old Order Church site
 Here's a link to other posts on Amish faith and life

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Governor Appoints 27 To Parole Commission

July 9, 2015 press release

RICHMOND – Today Governor Terry McAuliffe announced the appointment of an experienced group of law enforcement professionals, legislators, community leaders and academics to serve on his Commission on Parole Review. On June 24th the Governor signed Executive Order No. 44 creating the Commission and charging it with reviewing Virginia’s approach to parole and recommending any policy changes that may enhance public safety while protecting taxpayer dollars. The Commission will be chaired by former Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran and Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney. 

“This bipartisan panel of Virginia leaders will bring an array of perspectives to this important discussion about how our Commonwealth can best keep our communities safe while spending every taxpayer dollar as wisely as possible,” said Governor McAuliffe.  “I applaud their willingness to put political dogma and preconceived notions aside and engage in a thoughtful process about how this policy has worked for Virginians over the past twenty years and whether there are any opportunities to improve it going forward. With the guidance of Co-Chairs Moran, Stoney and Earley, I am confident that their final report will represent the best interests of all citizens of the Commonwealth.”

The first meeting of the Commission is scheduled for Monday, July 20, from 1-4 p.m. in House Room 3, Virginia State Capitol.  

The Commission will address five significant priorities related to Parole Reform: 
      Conduct A Review of Previous Goals and Subsequent Outcomes.
      Examine the Cost of Parole Reform/Abolition
      Evaluate the Best Practices of Other States
      Recommend Other Mediation Strategies
      Provide Recommendations to Address Public Safety Challenges 

A draft report is due to the Governor by Nov. 2, 2015, with a final report due Dec. 4, 2015

Members are as follows: 
         The Honorable Mark L. Earley, Sr., of Leesburg, Former Attorney General of Virginia; Owner, Earley Legal Group, LLC.  Will serve as Chair.
         The Honorable Brian Moran of Richmond, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.  Will serve as Co-Chair.
         The Honorable Levar M. Stoney of Richmond, Secretary of the Commonwealth.  Will serve as Co-Chair.
         The Honorable Jill Vogel of Fauquier, Member, Senate of Virginia
         The Honorable Dave Marsden of Burke, Member, Senate of Virginia
         The Honorable Dave Albo of Fairfax, Member, Virginia House of Delegates; Chairman, Courts of Justice Committee
         The Honorable Luke E. Torian of Prince William, Member, Virginia House of Delegates
         The Honorable Kenneth W. Stolle of Virginia Beach, Sheriff, Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office
         The Honorable La Bravia J. Jenkins of the City of Fredericksburg,  Commonwealth’s Attorney
         Gail Arnall, Ph.D., of Washington, DC, Consultant for Outreach and Development, Offender Aid and Restoration
         Camille Cooper of Louisa, Director of Government Affairs, The National Association to PROTECT Children & PROTECT. 
         Marcus M. Hodges of Spotsylvania, President, National Association of Probation Executives
         Cynthia E. Hudson of Richmond, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General
         Kimberly Lettner of Farmville, Retired Chief of Police, Division of Capitol Police
         William R. Richardson, Jr. of Arlington, Member, Virginia CURE; Retired partner, Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP.
         Cheryl Robinette of Buchanan, Director of Substance Abuse Services, Cumberland Mountain Community Services Board
         Mira Signer of Richmond, Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia
         Faye S. Taxman, Ph.D.,  of Gaithersburg, MD, Professor, George Mason University
         David R. Lett of Richmond, Public Defender, Petersburg Public Defender’s Office
         Meredith Farrar-Owens of Henrico, Director, Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission
         Sandra M. Brandt of Norfolk, Executive Director, STEP-UP inc.
         Alvin Edwards, Ph.D, of Charlottesville, Pastor, Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church
         Jack Gravely, JD. of Richmond, Executive Director, Virginia State NAACP
         Bobby N. Vassar of Richmond, Chief Counsel (Retired), U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime
         Timothy J. Heaphy of Charlottesville, Partner, Hunton & Williams, former United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia
         Mindy M. Stell of Dinwiddie, President, Virginia Victim Assistance Network
         Thomas M. Wolf of Richmond, Partner, LeClairRyan
Ex-Officio Members: 
         Tonya Chapman of Richmond, Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security
         Karen Brown of Richmond, Chair, Virginia Parole Board
         Harold Clarke of Richmond,Director, Virginia Department of Corrections
         Francine Ecker of Richmond, Director, Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services
         Margaret Schultze of Richmond, Commissioner, Virginia Department of Social Services

Pray for the work of this commission. Address concerns to:  (804) 225-4260 or
Here's a link to more posts on parole reform

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Should We Stop 'Voting' On Disputable Matters?

es, I know that occasionally (rarely, I would argue) it is good for the church to officially approve something with a vote. But votes should come into play when we have all had plenty of time to build deeper relationships and develop greater consensus. If we know going in that we are divided on an important matter, why does it become so important to “pass” a “resolution”? After a resolution passes by a narrow majority, what is it exactly that we have just “resolved” to do? We still have to find ways to listen to and love each other. We still have to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in ever-changing contexts. We still have to respond to our leaders, and they to us, in specific circumstances yet to unfold. Will a 60-40 resolution help us do that?

Here’s what I think: majority votes are a good thing when a large body has to decide on a specific action to take (like appointing board members), or a specific policy to enact (like changing bylaws). But when stating our intentions or aspirations or beliefs as a church, especially when we are far from agreement, I think that forcing these matters to conform to majority votes does nothing to help us be the church God intends us to be. It only sets up a scenario where a large segment of the church will be left disappointed, and potentially wounded or disenfranchised. Is that what anyone wants as a result? - See more at:
Our Newest 'Testament'?
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:


We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Acts 15:23-29 (NIV)

Throughout history, Christians have tended to imitate their surrounding culture when it comes to how they govern themselves. Under monarchies, for example, churches relied on a hierarchy of popes, cardinals and archbishops to govern the church. In democracies there has been an increased focus on pastors, presiders and chairpersons religiously following Roberts Rules of Order when it comes to making decisions and resolving differences.

These may each have their place, but I'm impressed by fellow pastor Phil Kniss's reflections on the latter kind of process after he attended Mennonite Church USA's potentially divisive Assembly at Kansas City recently.

Here is a part of what he's posted on the Mennonite's opinion site this week:

Yes, sometimes it is good and necessary for the church to adopt something with a vote. But votes should occur only after we have had plenty of time to build deeper relationships and develop greater consensus. If we know we are currently divided on a significant matter, why does a “resolution” become all-important (to both sides)? When a resolution passes by a narrow margin, what exactly have we just “resolved” to do? We still need to listen to and love each other in our differences. We still need to discern the move of the Holy Spirit in ever-changing contexts. We still need to respond to our leaders, and they to us, in specific circumstances yet to unfold. Will a 60-40 resolution help us do that?  

Majority votes are helpful when a large body needs to decide to take a specific action or adopt a specific policy. But when we are stating our broad intentions or aspirations or beliefs as a church (especially when we are far from agreement) forcing a majority vote does nothing to help us be the church God intends us to be. It only sets up a scenario where a large segment of the church will be left disappointed, and potentially wounded or disenfranchised. Is that what anyone wants as a result?

Phil makes some great points. There is no precedent for "voting" in the Bible. Perhaps taking a straw poll to help us understand how people are leaning might sometimes be in order, but all the while we should recognize that members of any group represent many points along a continuum on most issues in ways that don't neatly fit into a Yes or No category.

So my preference would be to continue to affirm basic Christian beliefs from the simple "Jesus is Lord" of the early church to the multitudes of other statements like the Apostles Creed, the various confessions of the church throughout history, and our own statements of belief and practice going all the way back to Schleitheim and forward to the present. Meanwhile we keep all of our differences in belief and practice on the table, continuing to show forbearance regarding all "disputable matters" that are sure to surface over time (see Romans 14-15).

Wherever there are deviations from a norm, congregations, not conferences, need to take responsibility to address the problem following the steps Jesus outlines in Matthew18. Where differences persist within and among congregations and conferences we need to engage in prayerful discernment in the manner of Acts 15 until we finally reach a consensus.

And if that takes us a couple of lifetimes, so be it.

Meanwhile, we can be sure that everything will be clarified for us in the life to come, where I'm told all of God's people will be a part of one unified family.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Gaining Altitude

For even young people tire and drop out,
    young folk in their prime stumble and fall. 
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
    they walk and don’t lag behind.
Isaiah 40:31 (the Message)

I still remember this as the text used by a local pastor at my "graduation" from the Weekday Religious Education program at Stuarts Draft Elementary back in 1951. As a seventh grader it made an indelible impression, not because I often felt emotionally exhausted or drained, but because of the beauty and power of the words. It has been one of my favorite Bible passages ever since.

As an adult I know very well what its like to experience stress to the point of feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes all we can see or think about is the elephant problem in the room.

One of the benefits of "waiting upon God" is getting outside the room, gaining a new perspective, seeing the bigger picture. This kind of prayer is not meant to give us a means of escape as much as to help us gain the elevation we need get a God's eye view of whatever is bothering us. 

When we see problems as a part of our larger and ongoing life story, they don't magically disappear, but more of the rest of our God-blessed life appears and we are able to see things in a different context. Through the eyes of faith we can better see what an experience may look like and feel like in the overall scheme of things, in the context of a month, a year or even a lifetime from now.

To me, that is a vital means of gaining strength, of being able to run without becoming weary, to walk without lagging behind or dropping out. 

Sometimes it's all about gaining some altitude.
View from Buffalo Mountain in Floyd County

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Local Jail Still Using The Restraint Chair And Isolated Padded Cell For Some Suicidal Inmates

Is this the best help the HRRJ can offer?
We have seen some progress recently in providing better mental health services for inmates at the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Regional Jail, especially since the Community Services Board, the City Council and the County Board of Supervisors began funding a half-time mental health counselor there in January of this year.

So far, however, this hasn't had the hoped-for effect of substantially reducing the use of the restraint chair and/or the isolated padded cell for so-called "medical reasons" (for someone who is suicidally depressed).

I've just received the following updated information through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request:

From January 1 through June 30 of this year jail staff used a restraint chair for suicidally depressed persons 24 times. The average time in the chair was 5.2 hours, with the shortest time being 3 hours and the longest 15 hours. While in restraint a person's legs, arms and torso are immobilized by leather belts and cuffs, and sometimes a bag is placed over the inmate's head (to prevent him or her from spitting).

By comparison, this method of restraint for suicidal inmates was used 18 times during the same time period in 2012 and 32 times in 2013.

An equally traumatizing option, the isolated padded cell, was used 8 times for suicidal inmates during the first half of this year. This compares to 7 times during a similar six-month period in 2012 and 15 times in 2013.

Being confined to this so-called "rubber room" is particularly stressful for anyone suffering from a mental illness, in that they are stripped of their clothing, given only a paper gown to wear and have to use a grate in the floor as their commode. They are provided no mattress, blanket, or eating utensils, have no access to reading or writing material, and have no human contact of any kind except for the staff person doing regular suicide checks or sliding their food (minus utensils) through a slot in the door.

A more humane option for suicidal inmates is the use of a regular segregated cell. This was done 21 times this year, and compares to 13 such inmates being placed in "seg" during the first six months of 2012 and 16 in 2013. Here inmates have access to a commode, can wear their regular clothes, have a mattress to lie on, and a copy of the Bible to read.

Some of us have been appealing to the sheriff to have this be the standard response for suicidally depressed individuals, along with providing a trained professional available for some counseling. When or if the CSB's half-time counselor isn't available, some of us have offered to enlist qualified persons to be on call around the clock on a volunteer basis as necessary for this purpose.

As a caring community blessed with ample resources we can surely do better than confining mentally ill people in restraint chairs and isolated padded cells.

You may address your concerns to: 

County Sheriff Bryan Hutceson
Harrisonburg Mayor Chris Jones
County Board of Supervisors Michael Breeden

Monday, July 13, 2015

Help Me Psychoanalyze A Bad Dream

Not a fan of Freud's, so I may need your help
"Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions."
Joel 2:28b

I know I'm taking these words out of context, but I've long had some distressing dreams I'm curious about, like this near nightmare the other night:

Setting: Eastern Mennonite High School, forty or so years ago, where I taught Bible and social studies courses part time for over 20 years.

Characters: Some young students and I in classes from years ago.

Time: It's exam week and I'm to give several end-of-year tests.

Problem: I don't have any of my exams prepared, and furthermore, I realize that I have failed to even show up for most of the classes I was assigned to teach, simply forgetting or totally neglecting my professional responsibility.

My Response: I am at a complete loss as to what to do, but figure it would be best to show up at each of the scheduled exams, then give each student a sheet of paper and ask them to write everything they can remember that we covered in the earlier part of the semester--even though I have only vague recollections of having met with them at all, and am unsure of the course title and content.

Their Response: An incredulous "What?" and other expressions of disbelief about what I was asking them to do. Most just sit there and write nothing, as if on strike.

My Emotional State: While I remain calm outwardly I feel totally devastated and absolutely awful about my failure to fulfill my obligations as a teacher. I realize I have completely lost the respect of my students.

Aftereffects: I wake in a cold sweat, recalling other recurring dreams in the past in which 1) I come to class on a first day of school and am completely unprepared or have misplaced my notes and don't know what to say or do; 2) I'm teaching a class and my students are paying absolutely no attention, are talking to each other, and/or are walking out; 3) I'm to bring a message at a church and am not dressed appropriately and/or have lost my sermon notes; 4) I realize I was supposed to have taken care of a neighbor's farm chores while they were away but I've totally failed to remember to do them, causing suffering to their farm animals.

Even after waking up with the relief of knowing that this was all "just a dream" I still frequently have a hard time getting my sense of well being back.

Any insights, anyone? 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Should We Grade Everyone On A Curve? How Probation Violations Add To Recidivism

A large percentage of inmates who are "frequent flyers" find themselves returning to jail after their release because of so-called "technical violations". That is, they have not repeated the kind of crimes that got them incarcerated in the first place, but have violated one or more of the conditions placed on them as a part of their probation.

Typical examples are for not showing up for a scheduled court appearance or an appointment with their probation officer, for not passing a drug or alcohol test, for driving on a license that may have been suspended as a part of their probation, for missing a child support payment or for failure to pay a fine or court costs as mandated.

These are all significant infractions, and while some may result from honest scheduling or other understandable mistakes, most are inexcusable. At the same time, they may not necessarily represent a person being a threat to their communities or to themselves.

This brings me to the concept of "conduct grades".

If we were to assign behavior grades to  citizens of our community, they would  represent a bell curve with a full range of scores from A to F. Most of us would agree that we can't categorize most people as either completely good or completely bad, as deserving all A's or all F's. Those would represent the numbers at the far left or far right of the bell curve.

We might consider the vast majority of reasonably "law-abiding" citizens as being somewhere in the C average category, all sinners represented by the dark blue area on the graph. We might think of the ones on the left of the middle line as those who occasionally or frequently get caught and are found guilty of crimes. Others with similar behaviors might manage to avoid detection or have more of the financial means needed to defend themselves in court.

As already noted, only the truly saintly among us are straight-A citizens, consistently in the light blue areas. These could be considered folks who are never guilty of even occasional traffic violations, who accurately report every single item on every tax return, and who never violate any of the multitudes of other existing laws, known and unknown.

Others might habitually live at a D or C- level, making them much more likely to get in legal trouble by drinking too much or using illegal drugs, getting rough in the treatment of a child or other family member in a fit of anger, or otherwise breaking the law in more obvious ways for which they may or may not be getting caught.

Once found guilty of a misdemeanor in the C- category, or charged with a felony in the D or F range, everything changes. When these individuals are put on probation, they are then typically expected to earn B+ or A- conduct grades while under supervision.

Maybe that's a good thing. After all, if we have offended and have been found guilty as charged, having to live up to high expectations isn't necessarily a bad thing.

However, as a society we might do well to at least do some cost-benefit analysis. How high should we set the bar?

Certainly expecting offenders not to repeat the same or a worse crime isn't expecting too much. But other details regarding probation requirements become a matter of judgment. We don't want to make probation such a large and sticky 'net' that most offenders are set up to fail, yet we want to help them learn to be more and more accountable for their actions.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Local Old Order Mennonites Preserve The South's Most Unspoiled Family Farm Area

Rural Mole Hill area (photo courtesy of Phil Kniss)
Few of us realize what a treasure our Old Order neighbors have maintained for us in the area south and west of Harrisonburg from Bridgewater to Singers Glen. Here some 300 conservative Mennonite families are quietly preserving a cultural, religious and agricultural heritage unlike any in the entire South, contributing much to what makes this part of our Valley so attractive and productive.

Members of this counter-cultural group, unlike their more modern Mennonite and other Protestant neighbors, provide for all of their children’s schooling, utilize no welfare benefits, and require little in the way of road improvements, law enforcement or other government services. In addition, many of them contribute generously to such causes as our local blood bank and to disaster and relief needs in Virginia and around the world, while paying property and other taxes like the rest of us.

photo by Phil Kniss
These are not perfect people by any means. Like all of us, they have their full share of human problems. But we owe them a great debt of gratitude for sparing much of the southwest quadrant of our County from the kind of commercial and residential development that is becoming more and more typical of vanishing rural areas in the state. And this living museum of well kept family farms remains the jewel that it is at no cost to taxpayers, thanks to a community whose most valued product is healthy families and hardworking neighborhoods.

South Main Street) in Harrsionburg
I have long been concerned about how development along Route 42 (South High Street) from Garbers Crossing to Bridgewater is turning that stretch of highway into another East Market Street (toward Elkton), resulting in the area becoming less and less hospitable to the Old Order's plain and simple way of life. And will we be able to avoid having a similar kind of “sprawl-mart” develop along the West Market Street corridor between Harrisonburg and Hinton?

To paraphrase a familiar text, What does it profit us if we gain more traffic, pavement and parking lots (and short term profits for a few) but lose a valued part of our Valley’s soul?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Behind Bars For A Combined 458 Years, 17 Inmates Send Get Well Wishes To Alma Jean

Charles Zellers, Sr., an inmate at Buckingham Correctional Center, prepared a get well card for Alma Jean when he learned she had undergone her recent heart procedure. Charles has been in correspondence with me for some time as one of the many parole-eligible inmates who has been turned down time after time in spite of having worked hard at doing everything possible to earn parole release. He had been assured by his attorney that his early release would be a sure thing when he reluctantly signed a plea agreement in 1993.

Charles, who has been behind bars for 22 1/2 years, decided to invite some of his friends who are in similar circumstances to sign the card as well, along with the number of years they have been incarcerated, as follows:

Get well soon! Taylor, locked up 23 years.

God Bless, Ricky Hunter, 31 years

I hope you get well soon, God bless you. J. Hamm, 23 years

I wish you a speedy recovery. God bless you, D. Worrell, 37 years

May God bless you, L. Jones, 32 years

God loves us all, Larry, 25 years

May the Lord be with you forever, James Fitzgerald, 29 years, up for parole July 1.

May God bless you, and you are in my prayers, from Brother Charles Smith, 21 years

God bless, James T. McKey, 25 years

Get well soon, John B. Williams, 38 years

J. Wright, 38 years

God bless and keep you. May you recover quickly and get well soon,  Ken Menson, 6 years, no parole

God bless you and get better soon. I hope you. I hope you feel better soon. He never gives more than we can handle.  Steve Colosi, 15 years, no parole

May God keep you under his wings. R. Akers, 26 years

God bless, Joe, 42 years

Get well soon, (name illegible), 25 years

Needless to say, we found this card very touching, one we'll definitely keep as a reminder of the love and blessing of the good men at Buckingham who signed it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Can The Earth Support Our Addiction To Comfort And Convenience?

Reproduction of  1700's Irish Farmstead at the Frontier Culture Museum
On Wednesday I accompanied some of my grandchildren to the Frontier Culture Museum at Staunton for a first hand experience of what average families lived like in past centuries. We were all impressed with how hard life was for most people then, how small and cramped their living quarters, and how limited their food and clothing choices.

The contrast to our current American lifestyle was stark. We came from expansive homes with year-round climate controlled comfort and wardrobes full of cheap clothes produced by underpaid workers around the world. We arrived in a fully equipped Toyota van and left to enjoy a tasty lunch at a McDonalds afterwards, all covered with the swipe of a Visa card. Ours was lifestyle with far more ease, comfort and entertainment than would have been available even to royalty in centuries past.

Recently Pope issued his long awaited encyclical on the care of the earth, which opens with:

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.[1]

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.
The "harm we have inflicted" is not the result of our deliberate efforts to ravage God's creation. Rather it is the inevitable result of our addiction to comfort and ease, to providing for our convenience and our appetite for endless entertainment.

In short, we have come to identify as needs things that our forebears would have never dreamed of having access to, such as air conditioning, smart phones, flat screen TV's with multiple channels, clothes dryers, motor powered transportation--the list could go on and on. We have become spoiled and lazy by our wealth, and demand ever more of the fruits of it, mindless of the consequences of our choices.

So in light of our insistence on ever more things, is there any hope for the earth's sustainability? Maybe, if we change our ways and live more like our ancestors--and like Jesus.

"A final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment.
"All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it."
James 5:1-6 (The Message)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

With Tongue Firmly In Cheek, I Announce My Candicacy For President

I would at least have considerably more living space
With ever more people from all over running for the highest office in the land, I've given some thought to throwing my own Amish hat into the ring.  ;-)

Seriously, I do already have a speech prepared that I could use in my campaign, as follows:

My fellow Americans, the only way a country can become truly great is for its citizens to become truly good. So in the spirit of John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you...” here are ten good things you can do for your country:

1. Become friends with people who are different from you. Respectfully share good things from the diversity of your cultures, traditions and faith convictions.

2. Be generous with your neighbors in need. Government programs must do their part, but each of us needs to volunteer more of our time and resources to help those less fortunate across the street and around the world.

3. Live a life of honesty and integrity. Show up on time at your work or school every day. Do your share and more. Never defraud your workers, employers, government agencies, insurance companies, or any other persons or institutions.

4. Obey all legitimate laws, and work to change unjust ones. Be law abiding not just for fear of being caught but simply because of who you are and the good example you want to set.

5. Respect all life from the womb to the tomb. Honor the unborn, and help spare the already born from the ravages of abuse, hunger, disease, war and poverty.

6. Save lovemaking for the married love of your life. Be faithful to your spouse, and take responsibility to bring up children in loving, stable and nurturing environments.

7. Take special care of the planet’s soil, air and water. Reduce wasteful consumption by reusing and enjoying more of what you already have, recycling everything you can, and by relying less on forms of  energy that pollute the atmosphere and waste scarce resources.

8. Don’t harm your body with tobacco, illegal drugs, or other harmful substances. Take personal responsibility for your health by eating right, exercising every day and maintaining a good level of emotional and spiritual well-being.

9. Honor your parents, grandparents and all aging and dependent persons. Care for them as you would want to be cared for yourself.

10. Avoid entertainment media that promote pornography, denigrate women, and glorify violence--and make sure to protect children from their destructive influences. Spend less time with TV, movies, video games and the Internet and more time in wholesome interactions with real people.

With God’s help, we could truly make ours a great country and the whole world a better neighborhood. In the process we could save billions in law enforcement and court expenses, in health care costs, and in prison and social service programs.

Best of all, none of the above would require special legislation or more tax dollars, only more personal responsibility by people like you and me.

The "speech" is from a July 11, 2011 blog post.

On second thought, I think I'll just keep preaching all of the above as a citizen of the worldwide and everlasting "kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ". Presiding over only the executive branch of a nation with only 5% of the world's population just doesn't seem challenging enough.