Sunday, August 30, 2015

Some Questions For Local Candidates

Harrisonburg/Rockingham Regional Jail
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for rulers and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
I Timothy 2:1-2 (emphases mine)

While not a member of any political party, I would really like to know where local candidates stand on the following:

Questions for Mr. Bryan Hutcheson, Sheriff (running unopposed):

1. Do you favor discontinuing the use of the restraint chair and/or the isolated padded cell for suicidally depressed and mentally ill inmates at our local jail (a total of 32 times for the first six months of 2015 alone)? (most area jails have no isolated padded cell, and Middle River Regional Jail, we are told, uses the restraint chair very rarely, and only for incorrigible inmates)

Would you consider following the practice of other local and regional jails and not have inmates in handcuffs when meeting with their families (in the totally secure visitor area separated by glass and concrete) or when they are moved to and from approved classes or other groups?

3. Would you be willing to phase out the use of orange or red striped jail garb in favor of denims and cotton shirts such as are commonly worn in state prisons?

4. Would you support reducing the cost of phone service and commissary items that add a financial burden to the families of inmates, along with the $1 per day "rent" cost generally borne by inmate families?

5. Would you support allowing qualified volunteers provide emergency mental health services and offer more GED or other educational programs for interested inmates?

Questions for Ms. April Moore, Mr. Mark Obenshain, State Senate candidates,
 Tony Wilt, House of Delegates candidate (unopposed),
Ms. Marsha Garst, Commonwealth's Attorney (unopposed) and (for items 1-5), Board of Supervisors candidates Michael Breeden, Fred Eberly, and Michael Breeden:

1. Do you support a more active oversight role by the local Community Criminal Justice Board as recommended by the Moseley Architect's Community Corrections Plan in its December, 2014 report? 

2. Are you in favor of the CCJB carefully considering the recommendations made for reducing incarceration that are in the above Community Corrections Plan as adopted by City Council, the Board of Supervisors and the CCJB in December, 2014?

3. Do you support ongoing funding for re-entry and rehabilitation programs like the Harrisonburg Diversion Center, and Gemeinschaft Home (Rockingham County)?

4. Do you support automatic bail bond for offenders who are gainfully employed (and/or a full time student) except in extreme cases of their being an immediate threat to community safety?

5. Would you support legislation banning the use of the restraint chair and the isolated padded cell for mentally ill and suicidally depressed inmates in our jails?

6. Do you support recent proposals to restore voting rights to rehabilitated offenders?

7. Do you support greater utilization of Virginia’s Geriatric Parole Statute (Code § 53.1-40.01) as a way of reducing the growing cost of health care for aging inmates who no longer pose any danger to society?

8. Do you favor reinstating some form of parole in Virginia and offering reduced time for inmates who utilize every opportunity to rehabilitate themselves in prison and prepare for effective reentry?

9. Would you support all inmates being supplied with the ID they need to be able to apply for jobs, driver's licenses, etc., upon release?

Address your own questions and concerns to:

Bryan Hutcheson
April Moore

For other posts related to criminal justice, type in a topic of interest in the small search bar in the far upper left side of the screen. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Meet The Sibanda Family

Pastor Busani and family from Bulawayo, Zimbabwa
While attending Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at the end of July I spent some  time between sessions getting to know delegates from parts of the world I may never get to visit, especially from the less affluent Global South. 

One of these was Busani Sibanda, full time pastor of the Brethren in Christ Church at Cowdray Park in Bulawayo, Zimabwe, and someone with whom I'm beginning to have some email conversation. His wife is doing her first year of student teaching in early childhood education and their three children, daughter 18 and sons 16 and 14, are each in school. 

The collapsing economy in their country has made life extremely difficult for them and for members of their congregation, and Busani has to supplement his meager church salary with some house painting he does on the side.  

School is not free in Zimbabwe, and they have to scrape up $600 per student per term to keep them enrolled. Given their income, this creates a significant hardship for the family, and they ask for our prayers

I plan to post some updates here on our newfound friends as I am able.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Community Organizations Endorse October 20 Mark Earley Visit

Mark L. Earley, Sr.
The following is addressed to community organizations and congregations and is from J. Daryl Byler, director of EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding:

25 August 2015


Former Attorney General Mark Earley, past CEO of Colsen-founded Prison Fellowship, member of the national Right on Crime organization, and co-chair of Governor McAuliffe's Commission on Parole Review, has agreed to speak to our community this fall to outline his views on criminal justice reform. 

This event, set for 7 p.m. October 20 at the at Martin Chapel auditorium in the Eastern Mennonite Seminary building, is open to the public and will also provide opportunity for concerned citizens to air their views.

As a way of promoting this event, we are inviting groups like yours to lend their endorsement and support. You can do so by simply agreeing, in writing, to have your organization's name attached to all publicity and for you to promote attendance through your email and other contacts. While financial support is also welcome, none is required.

Please email or write Harvey Yoder <> if you can help us promote Mr. Earley's visit in this way.

Warm regards,

J. Daryl Byler, Executive Director
Center for Justice and Peacebuilding


Note: I will keep adding names of groups to the following list as we receive them:

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding
Harrisonburg/Rockingham/Page Reentry Council
Harrisonburg/Rockingham Building Better Community Working Group 
The Fairfield Center
Harrisonburg/Rockingham Interfaith Association
Community Mennonite Church
The Mahatma Ghandi Center for Global Nonviolence
The Harriet Tubman Center
JMU Department of Justice Studies
Gemeinschaft Home
Virginia Organizing
Martin Luther King_Jr._Way Coalition
Harrisonburg Democratic Committee
NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center
Northeast Neighborhood Association
Immanuel Mennonite Church
On The Road Collaborative
Harrisonburg Police Department
Harrisonburg City School Board
Valley Family Forum
Harrisonburg NAACP
Our Community Place
Harrisonburg Mennonite Church
Harrisonburg Fellowship of Reconciliation
Community Mennonite Church
Staunton Institute For Reform and Solutions

Sunday, August 23, 2015

In a Universe So Vast, How Can God Be Truly Omnipresent?

We live about half way between the perimeter and center of this relatively small galaxy some 100,000 light years in diameter
“What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.”   – St. Augustine
In Biblical times, God was thought of as inhabiting a space somewhere high above and beyond the great dome or firmament known as the sky, or the heavens. That's where the sun, moon and all of the stars appear to orbit from east to west, beautifully displaying the wonders and glories of their Creator.

Since the time of Galileo, Copernicus and others, our concept of the universe has expanded exponentially. We now know our earth is but a speck in the cosmos, one small planet in orbit around a single star we call the sun. That sun, we have learned, is only one of billions of similar stars in our galaxy. And our Milky Way galaxy, over 100,000 light years in diameter, is but one of countless others, some far more vast.

In what way can God be seen as sovereign over all of this? Need we think of God inhabiting all parts of the created universe in the same way we have come to believe its Creator does in ours? Or is God most present in those places inhabited by God’s people, made in God’s image, filled with God’s Spirit?

These are mind-boggling questions we can only attempt to answer, and only in the context of a faith that is shaped by mystery, wonder and deep humility. We can never claim to know or understand things so unimaginable and so beyond our comprehension. We can only be amazed and awed. 

Our house church reflected on the following lectionary texts today, focusing on the kind of people God might choose to equip to represent and extend God's presence on earth today:

Joshua 24:14-18 Joshua’s challenge to God’s people at Shechem

We extend God's presence as we “serve” God in an unwavering and faithful way, as a committed and enlisted host of people who seek to march to the heartbeat of a divine drummer.

2. I Kings 8:22-30, 41-43 Solomon’s call to God’s people at the temple dedication

We extend God's presence as we become a living temple dedicated to God’s “Name”, e.g., that emulates God's character. According to this text, former aliens and outsiders are invited to join together in a life of humble service and worship.

3. John 6:56-69 Jesus’ invitation to his followers to ingest his very body and life blood 

We extend God's presence as we celebrate the life-giving bread and wine of Jesus and experience and exhibit the God-like qualities of Jesus himself.

4. Ephesians 6:10-20 Paul’s challenge to believers to be fully armed and empowered

We extend God's presence as we “stand” against the aggressive powers of evil in the world and offer life and hope to all who need God's salvation and deliverance from the forces that bind and blind them.

Here's a link to an amazing and humbling view of our place in the universe

Friday, August 21, 2015

"It's really hard to tell the crazy from the well, now that everybody's on the phone"


 all around the world, anywhere you go, everybody’s on the phone,
    driving down the road, something you should know is that
        everybody’s on the phone...

    walking down the street, strangers that you meet,
        they’re talkin’, but they’re all alone,
    it’s really hard to tell the crazy from the well
        now that everybody’s on the phone,

            all over the supermarket, chattin’ in the checkout line,
            I’m so happy to hear her tumor’s benign..
            that was more than I wanted to know,
            why your former boyfriend had to go,
            I have conversation overload, now that everybody’s on the phone..

    standing face to face in a public place,
        there are certain things you would not say,
    but since you’re on the phone, although you’re not alone,
        now you say them anyway,

            so swear like a sailor loud enough to make a grandma frown,
            at least she has a hearing aid to turn down..
            that was more than I wanted to know,
            why your former girlfriend is a ho,
            I have conversation overload, now that everybody’s on the phone..

        your family history, plumbing emergency,
        impending bankruptcy, why you put your dog to sleep,
        your infidelity, recent vasectomy,
        if you’re not telling me, then say it quietly, please!..

    all around the world, everywhere you go,
    everybody’s on the phone,
    driving down the road, better take it slow, now that
    everybody’s on the phone, everybody’s on the phone…

                                                              - copyright 2008 © Brad Yoder

As someone who uses our cell phone mostly when traveling (and seldom gives out our cell number) I love the above piece written by our Pittsburgh-based singer-songwriter son Brad.

Reminds me of a little encounter I had one day as I was walking from our local library to my office. A middle-age man was having an animated cell conversation using his new blue tooth phone (the kind that makes it appear that one is either just talking to oneself or to some imaginary friend). 

Apparently feeling a little self conscious about this as he saw me coming, he interrupted his phone conversation to tell me, "I'm really not crazy, I'm just talking with someone on my new phone." 

"Well, I happen to be a psychotherapist,” I said, “so in case you need any of my help, my office is just up the street." 

We both laughed, after which he continued his conversation with his friend, "You won't believe this, but a psychiatrist just came by and kidded me about being crazy!"

Of course he hadn't heard the “psychotherapist” part right (a fancy name for a licensed counselor), but I do often wonder whether we wouldn’t all be saner (to say nothing of safer) if we spent a lot more face-to-face time with our friends and family and did a lot less round-the-clock texting and talking.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Are We Not Men? Amnesty For Aging Inmates

Inmates pictured here (19) have spent a combined 516 years in Virginia prisons, have good prison records and are all parole eligible, having been incarcerated prior to parole being abolished in 1995. They also qualify for geriatric release (based on age and number of years served). Yet fewer than 3% of the nearly 4000 eligible inmates were released last year, and some have virtually given up hope of ever getting out of prison alive. 

Name; Age; # of years incarcerated; # of turn downs for parole

Mr. Kenneth Ray Pack; 65; 23; 11

Mr. John Bennie Williams; 82; 39; 20+ (blind)

Mr. James Franklin McKenzie; 65; 25; 14

Mr. Clarence Lee Barkley, Jr.; 68; 46; 31

Mr. Ronald Anthony Blair; 58; 39; __

Mr. Robert Davis Fitchett, Jr.; 52; 36; 12 (incarcerated since age 16)

Mr. Antonio S. Galacia; 78; 20*; 10

Mr. Patrick Michael Lockner; 62; 31; 12

Mr. Charles E. Zellers, Sr.. 47; 22; 7 (not pictured)

Mr. Donald Edward Worrell; 72; 36; 20+

Mr. David J. Ragno; 60; 30+; 20+

Mr. John Clinton Wright; 87; 38; 33+

Mr. Henry Tipold; 70; 36; 14+

Mr. Clarence Duke Reynold; 66; 25; 10

Mr. Bruce Andrew Ainsley; 63; 32; 15

Mr. Rickey Anthony Hickman; 61; 20*; __

Mr. Melvin Leroy White; 70; 20*; 8

Mr. James Benjamin Fitzgerald; 68; 29; 17

Mr. Bobby Fayne Hess; 64; 35; 24

Mr. Lonnie Eugene Coleman; 63; 39; 20+

Note: Men or women in prison who are seen as a current danger to others are confined to one of Virginia's maximum security facilities rather than in medium security ones like the above. These are but a few of many model inmates who are eligible, and many have significant health problems. The likelihood of individuals re-offending drops sharply with age, while the cost to taxpayers to keep them incarcerated dramatically increases.

* actual number of years incarcerated unavailable, but would be 20 or more

Here's a link to more posts on parole in Virginia

Here's a link to contact Governor McAuliffe

Monday, August 17, 2015

Every Couple Needs A Good 'Safe'

A marital 'safe' helps manage conflict 
How do you handle relationship problems that threaten to ruin your day or even destroy your marriage?

One alternative is for couples to have a secure 'safe' (metaphorically speaking) in which to place issues that at the time seem to be too hot to handle.

Temporarily storing something doesn't mean burying it, pretending it no longer exists, or vowing never to bring it up again. Rather, it means keeping both the problem and the relationship secure until you are calm enough and confident enough to deal with it in a mature, productive way. Or if necessary to turn to a congregational leader, counselor or mediator to help you do so.

In spite of how urgent some volatile problems seem, few of them actually demand immediate attention unless they involve something like a fire or a serious accident. In other words, you can safely file them as problems, not crises.

Meanwhile a fireproof marital safe can help keep your relationship from going up in flames.

Metaphorically speaking.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

How About Some Real "Truth In Sentencing"?

Background: The state of Virginia, under Governor George Allen, enacted truth-in-sentencing laws in 1995 that abolished parole for future offenders and required them to serve at least 85% of their time. This change was accompanied by longer sentences and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, all of which in turn have resulted in prison crowding and lower inmate morale--in that there are fewer incentives for good behaviors that might result in an earlier release.

Today's question:  What might real "truth in sentencing" actually look like?

Let's take an actual random case that made the front page of yesterday's Daily News-Record. It involves a 41-year-old female found guilty of embezzling $13,000 and obtaining some $7,000 through other illegal means.

I have no particular opinion regarding the fairness of the sentence (though it would have been interesting to see the outcome of a restorative justice process), but in the interest of truth, there are at least three different parties sentenced here, not just one:

The offender's sentence, according to the DNR article, is fifteen years in prison--with thirteen of them suspended--plus restitution of $36,620 to be paid after her two years are served. Period. But in the interests of "truth in sentencing" the following could also be added:

She will suffer the humiliation of having to wear prison garb and make any public appearances in court or for an outside medical appointment in shackles and handcuffs. While at the local jail for six months or more (before being moved to a state prison), she will be handcuffed whenever she is moved to the visitor area, to a class or for a session with the nurse, or even with her minister or an attorney (where she is separated by a wall of concrete and glass). She will also be charged "rent" of $1 a day, or if (at the sheriff's discretion) she spends part of her time at the Middle River Jail that "rent" will be $3 per day, or over $1000 a year. She will also be charged extra for things like coffee, snacks, and for any medical costs. Phone calls from Middle River, for example, are $10 per 15-minute conversation. She will likewise give up her right to any privacy 24/7 unless she is confined to a segregation cell for an infraction, which can be even more stressful than being in a crowded cell.

It could be argued that she deserves all of this or more, but I'm simply noting that none of the above are never named as a part of the sentence.

The family is also "sentenced" to having to foot the bill for most of the above, even though they have not been convicted of any crime. Exorbitant phone costs, high-priced commissary items and the $1 or $3 daily jail "rent" may significantly add to her family's financial burden, in addition to her no longer being able to earn an income to help with her family's finances. Time and travel costs involved in making visits can also be substantial, depending on where she will serve her time.

Of course, this person's family is not legally obligated to pay any of the above, but strong family support and frequent visits and phone calls have been shown to be a major factor in an inmate's rehabilitation and later re-entry into society.

Law-abiding citizens are also "sentenced" to support her incarceration, to the tune of the $26,000 or more per year that it costs to house and feed people in steel cages. In addition, we are being deprived of the benefit of the inmate being a productive, tax-paying fellow-citizen for the duration. In some cases, we could also be footing the bill for additional social services and other benefits should her family experience special hardships due to her absence.

Conclusion: While we may have honest disagreements over the merits of this or any other case, or about the fairness of her sentence, we need to face "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" when it comes to all parties who are being affected, and everyone who is actually punished.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Children Without Grandparents Are 'Lost People'

August Wilson 1945-2005
August Wilson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who grew up in the Hill section of Pittsburgh, once made the statement, “ Children who don’t have connections with their grandparents are lost people. They don’t know who they are.”

Wilson, the fourth of six children born to an African-American  mother and a German immigrant father, was raised largely by his mother, a cleaning woman who divorced when he was quite young. He laments the number of children who grow up without the nurturing of a father, grandfather and/or a grandmother.

Or in some cases, a grandparent may be the only real mentor in children's lives, and all too many, regardless of economic status, live in communities in which people have few ties with each other, with their extended families, or with their past.

Children thrive best when they grow up in a clan of folks who tell them family stories, who model good values, and who provide wholesome role models and heroes for them to look up to and follow.

Where those networks don’t exist, our congregations and communities need to work at creating them, through forming relationships with adopted 'grand-mentors' who are willing to offer some good quality time to our young. We can't afford to have children learn only the worldview and values of their peers or of the media to which they are exposed.

I don't have many memories of my biological grandparents, the last surviving one having died when I was five. But I feel blessed to have had grown up with a strong, intergenerational extended family, along with a close-knit church family in which I had good surrogate grandparents.

And now we are blessed with six grandchildren, ages 5-10, for whom we hope we can provide some of the nurturing from which to launch future grandparents who can provide the same support for generations yet to come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

More Readers Air Opinions About MRRJ

Middle River Regional Jail
The comments in this post were submitted online by readers of the Staunton News-Leader's August 2 editorial, one which called for an independent investigation into alleged problems at the Middle River Regional Jail. This facility currently houses 150 inmates from our area as well as from Augusta and Page Counties. 

Please note that the treatment of inmates at Middle River Jail may not be significantly different from many other facilities. Certainly not every inmate will have the kinds of negative experiences described below, and most members of the MRRJ staff are undoubtedly dedicated and good people. It should also be noted that inmates do not receive free medical care and meds, as one comment suggests, but must pay for it.

I print the following responses (with editing only for brevity and clarity) without names, although all signed their online posts, :

"I'm so glad somebody is finally speaking out about this. I couldn't have said it better myself. So for those who say "So what, they are inmates,"  etc... first and foremost they are humans, and don't deserve to be treated they way they are. Not all inmates are murders or rapists, most at MRRJ are small time petty offenders. I have heard way to many stories about how they are talked to and treated. I don't care if it's a 90 year old man or 19 year boy, a life is a life and they deserve better."

"Why should inmates receive free medical care and meds? How does one break a hand in jail? If you have a heart problem or any other medical problems, don't do crimes. It's that simple!"

"And if you do a crime then you should be allowed to die?? If you have asthma and you have a prescription that is paid for and can be delivered you get denied. And they charge the inmates $3 dollars a day to stay, and to see the nurse it's $10.00."

"$3 daily rent? Whew, look out. And pay copays? Wow, I pay copays and I also have to pay for the insurance and a deductible before my insurance pays at all so yeah it's pretty good. And yeah if you are sick and you need meds and you know the jails don't provide them why are you committing crimes? Why should tax payers have to pay for people who are breaking the law?"

"I'm an ex resident of MRRJ and something very inhumane, adn downright disgusting was done to me but Ive got way more to deal with in my life than to complain about insensitive C.Os but it really is unjustified the way thy treat people."

"Reading certain posts here have actually gotten me pretty dismayed. How does one break their hand in jail? How does it happen anywhere? Many ppl are completely naive to situations that eventually land them in jail. I suppose not everyone had the good fortune of being brought up with the cynical hearts that prepare you for the predators out there. "

"$3 dollars a day, hmm. Seemingly dirt cheap, yes? To whom? The inmates can't pay it. It's families and friends that take on that burden and then still try to send commissary and phone money.  Fine, let's call it
what it is. A money racket.... a business. Only problem is, inmates are getting low quality everything for the money they are required to pay. Should they have caviar? Obviously not. Should they be given respect and just adequate care. Yes. Pretty simple. "

"RIP Steve Rawley... Cancer unchecked after much complaining at MRRJ until he fell out and died two days later at AMC. Serving a year for habitual offender. Thats a driving charge. A DRIVING CHARGE. OUTRAGEOUS. "

"I have two brothers there....they are being mistreated and hit by guards and nothing is being done about it. they have filed grievance and no one looks at it, or it will take over a month to receive anything back. Some of the guards there think they can get away with everything. Its not fair. they may have broken the law and been sentenced to jail, but they are still human and dnt deserve how they are being treated. thrown into the hole with no mattress pad so they are sleeping on cold concert floors. than when they get sick they don't want to provide any health care. they withhold visitations and mail from family from them and that's not right to the family who is concerned about them, and have no way to know how they are. Seriously hope this is investigated more deeply as to not only my brothers well being but to the other inmates as well. Yes, they made mistakes and choice to be punished for these mistakes and I agree but to be inhumane and treat human beings like dirt under our feet just cuz they made bad or worthless choices in life isn't right nor is it fair......I wish and hope and pray this is investigated and the true justice is served!"

"That is right . They still need medical help. They need to go to the hospital and be seen. Where is that $3.00 a day going? Just because some of them made bad mistakes doesn't mean you do not help them. They are just like us out here. Some thing needs to be done. Some of them are in there for child support when they should be out here working to be able to pay it. God bless all."

"Well again last night my family member was taken the wrong meds, the medical staff was questioned and they insisted they were her meds. So therefore she would have gone without meds last night. Like I said I take her meds there every month so we know what they look like. I called immediately and spoke with a Cpl, Within an hour he took her the correct meds and signed off on them also, and he he did return my call and let me know he had taken care of. it I really appreciated it. But what happens to the inmates that don't have anyone on the outside to do this for them, do they just die from a medication error? Maybe it's time the medical board is contacted. I am not going to let this go, I wlll take it as far as I need to. She has filed at least six grievances in less than 30 days and nothing has been done."

"My son is in MRRJ and got a boil on his stomach from the unsanitary conditions. When he asked to see the nurse it took four days and a phone call from me complaining and telling them that I will harass them till he was seen. Then he was given a bandage and ibuprofen. Then he had an asthma attack and had to use someone else's inhaler bc they wouldn't let me bring his in even though he had a prescription for it."

"Just on 7/27/15 I called and spoke with a lady in the medical department about my family member that had received the wrong meds the night before and that morning, even described her the capsule, she said it sounded like an antibiotic, which is bad because she is allergic to sulfa,. She said she would look into it. It took until that Thursday, 7/30/15 for her to get the correct meds, which by that time she had withdrawal from her antidepressant and was in a bad state. The sad thing is I purchase her meds myself and take there, so they do not have to give her anything for FREE."

"I was at MRRJ for about 5 days and during those 5 days I was denied my heart medication and other meds that I need for congestive heart failure and copd.. I was in holding and told that the nurse was too busy making her rounds with the inmates to make it up to the holding cells for me to receive my meds. I wanted to file a complaint and was told there was nothing I could do since I was considered property of the state while I was in there and they basically could do what they want."

I will be glad to post any official response or rebuttal provided by MRRJ.

Here's a link to other posts on this topic:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Why Do My Kids Act That Way?

When we keep asking “Why can’t you ever...? or “Why do you always…?” our children soon learn there’s no use trying to come up with an answer. These are loaded questions, meant to deliver accusations rather than gain information.

According to psychologist Rudolph Dreikurs the best way to understand the “Why” of children’s misbehaviors is not by interrogating them but by learning more about their underlying needs. All behaviors, are need-based, he says, and a misbehavior is simply a misguided and inappropriate way of trying to get a need met. 

Here are some examples:

1. “Mommy! Mommy! Now!” (child interrupts when you’re busy) 
Some bad behaviors may result from a child simply trying to get love, recognition, or attention. When children feel lonely or ignored, even negative interaction may feel better than no interaction at all. As parents, we typically feel annoyed or bothered when children operate from this need. Our challenge is to help them find creative and healthy ways of getting the love and attention they crave.

2. “No! I want to do it this way!” (child ignores your instructions) 
Bad behaviors also come from a child just wanting to have a say, to feel a sense of autonomy and power as a respected member of the family. Children with this need provoke feelings of threat, challenge or intimidation in us. It is important to avoid being drawn into power struggles, but offer opportunities for children to have age-appropriate responsibility and control.

3. “You’re mean! I hate you!” (child expresses anger inappropriately) 
When children feel these first two basic needs aren’t being met, they may resort to direct or indirect retaliation. Children with this need often cause feelings of hurt in us. It is important to avoid getting into a revenge cycle, but to try to understand the distress behind an angry child’s reactions, to provide for cooling off periods, to pay more attention to needs one and two above, and to work at resolving underlying problems in the relationship. Meanwhile we make it clear that disrespectful behavior is not acceptable.

4. No response (child retreats and will not talk) 
When all of the above inappropriate efforts appear to fail, children may react in indirect, non-verbal ways, or just avoid connecting with parents and others altogether, which tends to evoke feelings of helplessness in us and others. Effective parents avoid showing pity or being manipulated by this kind of response, but provide support, understanding and encouragement, along with offering healthy ways of repairing and restoring relationships.

Sometimes, when not in the heat of a conflict, it may help to ask a child, “When you were doing or saying…  (describe unacceptable words or behavior), could it be that you were feeling… (left out, disrespected, angry, discouraged, etc.)? How could we help you feel and behave better?”

It sure beats asking “Why?” questions.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Holocaust Of Horror

Hiroshima bombing aftermath
"I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life, that you and your children may live."
- Deuteronomy 30:19

Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the use of the first atomic weapon, dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945.

This deadly bomb resulted in the immediate killing of some 70,000 men, women and children, to be followed by an equal number experiencing terrible deaths from burns and radiation poisoning in the days immediately following. The estimated deaths from later victims of cancer raised the total losses to some 300,000.

Nagasaki suffered similar casualties in its bombing three days later.

When aerial bombing of civilian targets with conventional weapons were first carried out during the Spanish Civil War less than a decade earlier, the world was horrified. But with multiple saturation bombings of cities during the Second World War, we became numb to news of massive civilian holocausts of this kind.

In that sense, Hitler won. We became like the worst of him, condoning the use of whatever inhumane means necessary to achieve national ends.

Since the end of the Cold War and the implementation of the START treaty, we have largely forgotten the threat that still hangs over us, especially if nuclear weapons were to ever get into the hands of groups or nations bent on our destruction. We have also forgotten that the world still has stockpiles of weapons that could destroy our planet and all life on it several times over.

May God help us remember, and to beat our terrible swords into plowshares before it is too late.

Here's a link to the August 31, 1946 New Yorker article that detailed the horror of Hiroshima.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

My Good Friend Will

I am blessed to be a friend of Will Ross, a graduate of Gemeinschaft Home who continues to live there as a trusted role model for the residents and as the Home's all around maintenance person. Will also hires residents whenever he can to help him with construction and remodeling work he does in the community as time allows, and generously helps graduates of the program with housing and other needs. 

Among other projects, Will has put a new roof on our house, done other painting and repair work for us, and has been a great help in my keeping an adequate supply of firewood for the winter. He is a truly gracious and good man.

The following is from Gemeinschaft's April 2015, thirty-year anniversary publication, reprinted with permission.

by Janette Hebert and Jennifer Jacovitch (
PictureFormer resident, William Ross
He has been described as a bright light by staff members. His smile is contagious.  His free-spirited energy is evident when he enters the room. Yet, to observe him sitting in one spot for any length of time is a rare moment in the case of William Ross who works with the staff and residents of Gemeinschaft Home.

A former resident of the program, Ross is originally from the Chesapeake area of Virginia, and he came to Gemeinschaft Home in 2012.

Before joining the program at Gemeinschaft Home, Ross claims to have hit rock bottom, and he credits God for saving him from near death and leading him to Gemeinschaft Home, saying, “The only reason I’m here is because of God; without him I would not be here”.

After Ross completed the program, he felt as though God wanted him to stay at Gemeinschaft Home, a place that had changed his outlook on life, to help others--residents and staff, as well as people in the local community. His hope for others is to get to a place “where instead of hate you love; instead of lying you tell the truth; instead of seeing just the bad in people; you see the good.” Gemeinschaft Home has been the vehicle for Ross to help others in a way that he says “is meant to be.”

A typical day for Ross often involves a variety of activities, owing to the multiple roles he plays in the day-to-day operations of the organization, both as the resident advisor and facilities/maintenance manager. He is a “problem solver on demand,” as one staff member describes him.  Whether he is urging, and often transporting, residents to participate in community-based support opportunities or attending to business matters on behalf of Gemeinschaft Home, Ross is an indespensible part of the team-based approach evident among the residents and staff of Gemeinschaft Home.

As a resident advisor, Ross has an open door policy and says that he is often needed as early as 6:30 in the morning or as late as midnight. Because he is a former resident, and well-aware of the struggles they face, Ross explains that many residents confide in him about personal issues as well as those within the house.

Due to the influx of needed advising for residents, Ross created a room designated as a calming and tranquil space for counseling and spiritual guidance.

Ross argues that he was given a second chance in life through his experience at Gemeinschaft Home. “I was grateful to have this opportunity,” he says, “I could die tomorrow and I would be happy. I got a chance to feel what I was supposed to. I always want people to know it is not about me; it is about everyone else.”

Ross’ philosophy is best told in his own words: “My life is real, my life is meaningful, my life is joy. This joy never goes away, even when I run into problems or something isn’t going right; I still make it through.” 

Monday, August 3, 2015

If Christ Were Head Of The Church, Which Schisms Would He Suppport?

Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouvert (1852-1929), The Last Supper
We Christians are a contentious lot. Over the centuries we have divided and re-divided into countless different communions, separated from each other by diverse customs, creeds and ethnic origins--but mostly because we just can't get along with each other.

Not being able to work things out, of course, is never our fault. It just that other people are either too carnal and too contrary to do and believe the right thing.

Due to our responsibility to remain faithful, we've come to affirm that churches have every right to separate from those who are in error. Or at least ours does, as long as we follow Roberts Rules of Order or a similarly civil process in coming to our decision.

And all of our decisions, in contrast to those who differ from us, are legitimate and justified. Our one and only desire, after all, is to be faithful to Scripture, the whole Scripture and nothing but the Scripture. And isn't the Bible, as we understand and interpret it, absolutely clear on everything faithfulness to Jesus requires? So why don't all of the folks we are separating from--or who are separating from us--see things the right way? It's baffling.

Of course we do regret having so many divisions. But as the Good Book says, "Good wood splits easily" (or something like that). And somewhere it is also written (or if it isn't, it should be), "Better to separate amicably than to have unresolved differences and disagreements."

End of satire.

On a more serious note, the Mennonite Church USA, already representing only about .00045% of the total number of the world's professing Christians, is about to experience a new round of church separations and divorces that will create even more and ever smaller sub-groups.

If Jesus were alive and were acting as Head of his beloved body and bride, the church, would he approve?

Ironically, we keep affirming every Sunday that he is in fact not only alive, but that he is our One and Only True Lord and Lover.

But has anyone bothered to ask him how he feels about all this?


"With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, 
forbearing one another in love;
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body, and one Spirit, 
even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, 
and in you all."

- Ephesians 4:2-6 (KJV)

Here's a link to other posts on church unity: