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Saturday, October 31, 2015

We Each Carry Two Buckets

I've always told couples that marriages work better when people come together with their happiness bucket already full and eager to share their joy supply with each other. Too often people enter a relationship with empty buckets, expecting the other to provide an endless supply of whatever they need.

Metaphorically speaking, each of us carries two buckets, one a gratitude pail and the other our garbage pail.
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The gratitude bucket is one we need to keep filled to overflowing with abundant and amazing grace, representing all of the unearned benefits that make us truly rich. It represents the part of our life where we find our yoke easy and our burden light, and from which we have a surplus of God-given, grace-based assets to share.

In our garbage bucket we carry our grievances, griefs, grudges and losses. These are not inconsequential, and are not to be ignored, but we want to carry them only as long as necessary to deposit them to a safe place for closure and healing. Garbage is viewed as something that needs to be taken out regularly for composting, while we practice the hygiene of regularly keeping its container as clean and flushed out as possible.

Of course, when it comes to our relationships, we support each other in dealing with our distresses as well as blessing each other with our abundance.

I recently ran across a letter a father wrote to his 13-year-old daughter when she was dealing with a crushing disappointment. He wrote, "...when momentary unhappiness befalls us, we pause only long enough to tidy up our hearts, and then we continue on wiser and better equipped for the much rougher road ahead."

She kept that note in her wallet for the rest of her life.

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"This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God."
II Corinthians 9:10 (the Message)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Letter To The Editor That Didn't Get Printed

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Since the Daily News-Record chose not to publish the following letter submitted by members of the local Interfaith Association, I am posting it here. I share it with the simple concern that every effort be made to treat our Muslim neighbors and other minority groups with fairness and respect.

I will be glad to publish any official responses the DNR or the HPD may wish to make.

Dear Editor, DNR:

RE: “Police Probe City Robbery” 9/28/15

A number of us in local faith communities are concerned about the inaccurate reporting in this front page story, in that it implies that a Muslim committed crimes of which in fact he was neither suspected nor charged.

The Harrisonburg Police Department press release does not name Mr. Ezzulddin Mohammed. But if the paper goes to the trouble to find and publish the name of this 18-year-old, why not dig deeper into the story?  The HPD press release simply says that “One adult and one juvenile” were taken into custody and that “On scene investigation led to charges of malicious wounding and robbery.”

To make matters worse, the paper ran the story without checking the actual charges, which are a matter of public record. Mr. Mohammed was not charged with robbery. What happened to reporting a story with enough nuance to indicate that the charges are allegations rather than facts?

Members of the Interfaith Association are concerned that this inaccurate reporting will recklessly inflame anti Muslim sentiments against one of our religious minorities.

Daniel D. Robayo, President
Abbas Rawoot, Vice-President
Ramona Sanders, Secretary
Rev. Jennifer Davis Sensenig

Interfaith Association of Harrisonburg-Rockingham

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

No Defense For Insane Defense Spending

In a world of more and more war-ravished refugees, how can we defend this?
"This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live."
- Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV)

According to an AP article in our local paper, Congress is about to do everything possible to override the president's recent veto of a $612 billion defense policy bill.

Unfortunately, Obama wasn't so much against the outrageous amount of tax dollars involved in this bill, but vetoed it largely because it includes measures to reduce domestic spending for peaceful purposes, limits the president's ability to move detainees from Guantanamo, and prevents military base closures and the cutting of funds for equipment even the Pentagon admits it doesn't need.

Ironically, this fervor for increased government spending on a death-dealing military-industrial complex comes from a Congress that professes to be against big government and out of control spending. It is constantly expressing the fear that expenditures for things like food stamps, which immediately adds to the economy, will bankrupt the country and cause the national debt to skyrocket.

Meanwhile, the US is funding an air war in the Middle East which alone is costing us some $10 million daily. Yet the more havoc and death we inflict in the region the more new recruits are joining ISIS to destroy us, armed with hand held weapons and traveling in pickups.

Any such terrorizing bomb attacks in lands half a world away is not defense. Instead it is creating hordes of ever more determined enemies every day.

May God save and defend us. Certainly our multibillion military budgets will not.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Local Candidates' Responses To Some Criminal Justice Questions

How can we improve our criminal justice system?
“Love compels us to respectfully and humbly show all high officials what the Word of God commands them... to punish the transgressors and protect the good; to judge rightly between a man and his fellows; to do justice to the widows and orphans and to the poor, to rule cities and countries justly by a good policy and administration... to the benefit of the common people.”
- Menno Simons

I submitted the following questions to our three local candidates running for state offices in early September:

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?

Here are their responses, in the order received:
April Moore, 26th District Senate candidate

Ms. Moore responded right away but asked for time to prepare a position statement, which she later provided, as follows:

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM IS ESSENTIAL
by April Moore

Much has been written about American Exceptionalism---beginning with the Founding Fathers’ belief that our new nation would serve as a “Shining City on the Hill” for other peoples to admire and emulate.  There are many ways in which we have, indeed, been a role model for the world.  Sadly, there is an area where we should offer a positive example, but, instead, we are “exceptional” in a way we should not want to be----our criminal justice system. 
The United States imprisons a larger percentage of our population than any country in the world. While we have only 4.4% of the world’s population, we incarcerate nearly 25% of all the world’s prisoners. “Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today.”  (Adam Gopnik). 
Everywhere along the path from arrest to imprisonment to release, we have broken our promise as a just and equitable society with disastrous consequences for the lives of millions of people. 
          We have promised that all people will be treated equally, but racial and economic discrimination in our criminal justice system is well documented.
          We have promised a “jury of our peers,” however, very few of those arrested ever see a jury, especially if they have no money.
         We have promised a lawyer for everyone charged with a crime.  Those with little or no money are promised a public defender. But these attorneys are often inexperienced and overworked.  They frequently do not see the defendant prior to appearing in court and even less often have time to do the research the case requires or even give serious thought to the charges being filed against their client.
         Confident in our promise, we believe that only guilty and violent people are behind bars.  According to the Justice Policy Institute, of those in jail, 62% are there awaiting resolution of charges against them and most would be released if they could afford bail.  Half of all people in state prisons are there for nonviolent offenses and 20% for drug offenses.
        Regarding those in prison, there is no way of knowing how many are actually innocent of the crimes for which they are charged.  This is true because our notorious plea bargaining system typically coerces the accused into pleading guilty to whatever crime the prosecuting attorney and public defender decide is appropriate.   In federal courts, as high as 97% of cases are resolved through plea bargaining. The judge typically does little more than rubber stamp the agreement.
        We have promised that, while in prison, everyone will be treated humanely.  However, conditions in our prisons, particularly the frequent and long-term use of solitary confinement, have been labeled by Human Rights Watch as constituting a violation of human rights.

        As a just society, we have promised that, after release from prison, ex-offenders are free to become productive members of society.  After release from prison, however, many factors, including employment obstacles, debt incurred while in prison with unpaid child support, and driver’s license prohibitions contribute to a recidivism rate of nearly 70%.  
A strong movement has begun nationwide, and here in District 26, to begin the essential work of criminal justice reform---to keep our promises.


Legislators can play an important role in supporting this movement statewide.  If I am elected State Senator, I will establish an advisory committee to work with me in crafting legislation that will support the critical criminal justice reform work that has begun here in District 26 and encourage a similar statewide effort.  In particular, I will work with local and state groups in addressing the need to reinstate parole as an important opportunity for those in prison to gain early release for good behavior, reduce the costs of their continued incarceration and make a positive contribution to society. 
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Delegate Wilt responded as follows: 

Thank you for your interest in my positions on issues related to the criminal justice system and incarceration.
As I have indicated to other groups that have solicited my positions on various subjects via surveys and questionnaires, I generally reserve final judgement on specific legislative proposals until I have a chance to review the actual language of a bill.
Many of the questions you pose are not black and white issues with only two definitive options, but rather could have various policy outcomes, some of which I may or may not support depending on the specific content of a bill. For example, on the question concerning the need to ban the use of the padded cell or restraining chair for mentally ill and suicidal depressed inmates, I'm not sure if I would be comfortable "banning" their use, but I would certainly be willing to consider proposals that make an effort to limit their use.
I believe there are some policy areas that the General Assembly can and will review this upcoming session to improve our criminal justice system while still protecting the public and the rights of victims of crime. I look forward to considering these issues.
As always, I welcome continued dialogue and learning more about these matters.

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Mark Obenshain, 26th District State Senate incumbant

Mr. Obenshain did not respond to my questions or to a follow-up email.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sweet Jesus

Christ Carrying The Cross - El Grecho 1580
He gets sweeter and sweeter as the days go by;
Oh what love between my Lord and I
I keep falling in love with him,
Over and over and over again.
- Pete Sanchez

An article by Kevin Emmert in the June, 2015, Christianity Today, "Jesus Has Always Been Our Boyfriend", notes that often the lyrics in modern worship songs (such as the above) are "more romantic than reverent--as if Jesus were a significant other, not the God of the universe."

Citing Lester Ruth, research professor of Christian worship at Duke Divinity School, Emmert notes that many US evangelical hymns from as early as the 18th century have similar themes. In other words, their focus is less on reverence for the supreme God of love and justice as revealed in Jesus Christ and more on the warm feelings associated with an intimate friendship with him. When Jesus is portrayed as being about meeting our every emotional need, what is frequently lacking in newer hymns is Christ's call to take up his cross and follow him in ways that are life-transforming and world-changing.

The much loved "I Came To The Garden Alone" is an example that comes to mind, composed in 1913 by C. Austin Miles:

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me,
Within my heart is ringing.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Having said that, I want to be charitable about any use of "hymns or spiritual songs" that offer inspiration or comfort, and to be able to live with plenty of poetic license when it comes to how others experience and express their personal faith.

For example, when I checked on the origin of a loved hymn from my childhood, "Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus," I learned that Louisa Stead had written the lyrics in 1882 in her grief following the death of her young husband. He had just lost his life in a tragic attempt to save a drowning boy at a picnic on Long Island Sound.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.


You have to appreciate any song associated with a story like that, while at the same time recognizing that most of us need more hymns that "afflict the comfortable" and not just those that "comfort the afflicted".

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Today's DNR Article On Mark Earley's Visit (posted with the kind permission of the DNR)

Former AG Regrets Past

Republican Earley Says ‘Tough On Crime’ Failed

October 21, 2015

Former Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley gives a talk Tuesday in the Martin Chapel at Eastern Mennonite Seminary regarding incarceration rates. (Photos by Daniel Lin / DN-R)

Earley said he regrets some of the criminal justice decisions he made during his time as a state senator and attorney general.
HARRISONBURG — Mark Earley regrets some of his criminal justice decisions from his time as a state senator and attorney general of Virginia.
“I feel like I’m spending the second half of my life making up for the first half,” Earley told more than 120 people gathered Tuesday at Eastern Mennonite Seminary for a presentation on mass incarceration.
Earley, a Republican, was in the state Senate from 1988 to 1997, served as attorney general from 1998 to 2001 and is now co-chairman of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Commission on Parole Review.
He is also is a member of Right on Crime, a national conservative organization dedicated to criminal justice reform. The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University invited Earley to speak.
Incarceration rates became a contentious issue last year as Harrisonburg and Rockingham County officials sought ways to alleviate overcrowding at the Rockingham County Jail.
City Council and the Board of Supervisors decided to buy into the Middle River Regional Jail Authority in a deal that took effect in July.
Opponents of the deal said the city and county should invest in treatment for nonviolent offenders and other reforms, not buy more jail space. Earley said measures should be taken to reduce incarceration rates.
He said he is in favor of reinstating parole in Virginia, eliminating mandatory minimums sentences, keeping inmates close to their families so they have a support system and allowing community-based groups to help inmates to re-enter society.
“The paradigm of most prisons does nothing to help people come back to society,” Earley said. “It almost sets you up to fail.”
He also said criminalizing drug addiction is not helping anyone, and the state needs to invest in helping addicts instead of imprisoning them.
Earley also said judges should be required to visit a prison once a year to “see where they are sending people.”
As attorney general and a state senator, Earley supported many “tough on crime” measures — such as eliminating parole in 1995, and lowering the age juveniles can be tried as adults from 16 to 14 in 1994 — that contributed to increased incarceration rates in Virginia.
“We were scarily successful at putting a lot of people in jail,” Earley said.
According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, in 2013, Virginia incarcerated 36,982 people in prison as opposed to 24,822 in 1994, a 49 percent increase. According to the National Institute of Corrections, Virginia’s prison population per 100,000 people was 446 in 2013, or 13 percent higher than the national average, despite the commonwealth’s relatively low crime rate.
As a state senator and later as attorney general, Earley said he didn’t think much about prisoners. That changed when he started visiting prisons to help inmates re-enter society.
“I viewed prisoners as something other,” Earley said. “When I went into prisons, I saw them as human beings.”
The public discussion after Earley’s presentation mentioned the “abuse and lose” rule that he advocated for.
The law, instituted in 2001, revoked driver’s licenses of people who abused drugs even if their conviction had nothing to do with driving.
“The thought was …  we’ll send a message,” Earley said. “Guess what? People who use drugs don’t function well on getting messages.”
Contact Nolan Stout at 574-6278 or nstout@dnronline.com


The following community groups supported/endorsed this event:

Harrisonburg NAACP
Our Community Place
Harrisonburg Mennonite Church
Harrisonburg Fellowship of Reconciliation
Community Mennonite Church
Staunton Institute For Reform and Solutions

Click here for information about a subscription to the Daily News-Record.

Monday, October 19, 2015

How An Introverted Old Order Inventor Achieved Fame And Made A Fortune

My brother-in-law Allan Shirk just published a book about Ed Nolt, a modest Old Order Mennonite who perfected the self-tying baler that made the New Holland Machine Company famous. This efficient machine was very much a part of my farm experience growing up in Augusta County.

Here's a part of a column about Nolt by Jack Brubaker of the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal:

"An Old Order Mennonite from Farmersville, Ed Nolt (1910-1992) was a poor student who hated farming. Instead, he enjoyed tinkering with machinery on his father’s farm. Using trial-and-error “blacksmith engineering,” Nolt created the first really useful straw and hay baler in the late 1930s.

"He did it while working alone, and later with Art Young at Kinzers, and then with the men who revived the New Holland Machine Co. in 1940.

"Nolt took out more than 50 patents and became a wealthy man. He established the CRELS Foundation to distribute his fortune to needy organizations. Last year, CRELS gave away nearly $1 million."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

An Overlooked Reason For Marital Fights

These sample stick figure drawings reveal a primary source of marital problems
Occasionally in marriage counseling I've asked partners to do stick figure drawings of their relationship, with the height of each figure representing how much power or influence they see each person having.

Most agree they would like to be able to portray their figures hand-in-hand and of equal stature. But when there are significant marital tensions, couples may become aware they have perceptions (or misconceptions) much like those illustrated above. Often it is these perspectives that are far more problematic than the actual issues they are quarreling about. In other words, whenever we see our spouse as having a power advantage, we tend to try desperately to level things out, to do somehow bring the other person down and ourselves up.

Often partners have opposite perceptions, as in the case above. He thinks she has the power advantage and she is convinced the opposite is true. Understandably, this is a set up for constant conflict.

Power, unless exercised by a physically stronger person overpowering a weaker one, is largely in the mindset of the beholder. In other words, when it comes to emotional or verbal power, the power  wielder can have little effect except with a power yielder. Thus changing the relationship dynamic doesn't just call for wielders to become less aggressive, but for yielders to become more assertive, refusing to take either a on-up or a one-down position. In other words, we all learn to respect ourselves and others equally, no more and no less.

Equal, of course, doesn't mean identical, but means functioning on the same level, as two incomparably valuable and diverse partners.

Our feelings of powerlessness tend to have a long history, starting with the fact that we are all significantly under-empowered during the first formative years of our lives. Becoming of age chronologically doesn't automatically give us the feeling of stature and confidence we always dreamed of. So it's up to each of us as adults to claim and celebrate our full stature and equal power relative to every other adult on the planet.

Good relationships thrive where each person experiences an abundance of healthy power, not over others, but with them. Equally. Hand in hand.

Here's another post on this topic.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Here Is A Summary Of The CJP Press Release On Mark Earley's Visit To EMU Tuesday

Criminal Justtice Reform Advocate Mark L. Earley
Mark Earley, former State Senator and Attorney General of Virginia.... currently serves as co-chair of the Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Commission on Parole Review and is immediate past president of the nationwide ministry, Prison Fellowship USA, founded by Charles Colson. He practices law with Earley Legal Group in Leesburg.

Earley will speak Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. in Martin Chapel at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) on “Why America Incarcerates So Many People and What We Can Do About It.”

Broad coalition endorsing visit

His visit is sponsored by a diverse coalition of more than 20 area organizations, including EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP).

Earley’s visit comes months after the Harrisonburg Police Department, aided by CJP-trained practitioners from EMU, James Madison University and the local Fairfield Center, announced an ambitious restorative justice program aimed at reducing local incarceration rates and reforming the local criminal justice system. 

"In light of all of the recent conversation going on in our community over the issue of jail expansion, some of us saw Mark Earley as an ideal person to speak to the urgent need for criminal justice reform, given his conservative credentials and his years of experience in the field,” said Harvey Yoder, Mennonite pastor, counselor and criminal justice advocate. “The more than 20 local agencies and organizations officially endorsing the event, ranging from the Harrisonburg Police Department to James Madison University's Department of Justice Studies, reflects some of the broad interest in this topic."

Yoder is among the leaders of a local chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization, as well as of a local working group focused on local justice issues known as Building Better Community.

Organizations endorsing Earley’s visit include the following:

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
Institute For Reform and Solutions

Relationships with incarcerated changed his mind 

Earley, an attorney, practiced law for 15 years in Norfolk, Virginia, as a criminal defense attorney and then served in the Virginia State Senate from 1988-1998. During that time, Virginia executed 36 people. In 1998, he was elected Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia, resigning in
2001 to run an unsuccessful campaign for governor. For all of these years, Earley says he supported the death penalty, but had increasing doubts about its morality. 

He also delved deeply into the lives and culture of the incarcerated as part of a task force on gangs and youth violence, and visited every juvenile detention center in Virginia – a visceral experience that he recounts in an interview in The American Conservative. 

After losing the governor’s election to Mark Warner, Earley served the next eight years until 2011 as president of Prison Fellowship USA. According to its website, Prison Fellowship helps to make prisons “more rehabilitative places, advocates for a restorative criminal justice system; and supports church and service providers to support former prisoners, their families and communities.” 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why Can't They Be More Grateful For Our Help?

Most of us might be on the right side of the good behavior curve, but it doesn't make us saints.
One of the laments I often hear at the Harrisonburg/Rockingham/Page Reentry Council I attend is that so few ex-offenders avail themselves of of the kinds of mentoring and other support offered them once they are released from prison.

There may be multiple reasons for this, many having to do with a simple lack of motivation and effort on the part of some ex-inmates. But I'm wondering how much of this also has to do with an ever widening "us-versus-them" gap fostered by our increasingly incarceration-bent society.

We middle-class and privileged citizens tend to see ourselves as part of an above average class, who out of the goodness of our paternalistic hearts reach out to people who have made poor choices that keep them in a state of relative poverty and disempowerment. They in turn tend to see us as a part of a better-than-thou majority that disrespects them, inflicts as much punishment as we can on them, and then expects them to appreciate us for doing so.

These mostly poorer neighbors, far less likely to be able to hire good attorneys to defend them and often being unable to afford bond while awaiting their "speedy trials", see themselves being unjustly jailed by people like us, whereas by right they should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Thus they, and rarely us, are subject to suffering humiliation by being paraded into court from a jail cell, wearing ill-fitting and garish looking orange or striped jump suits and in handcuffs and shackles. And they are far more frequently sentenced to do time in steel cages crowded with people they, like most of us, would never choose to be around, and limited to breathing fresh air and enjoying sunshine at most for an hour or two a week.

Those with a sentence of a year or more then usually spend an interminably long time in a state prison, cut off from their friends and loved ones, and from pursuing their normal work and social activities. The longer their incarceration the more their resentment tends to build and their anger toward those on the privileged outside grows.

So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that when they do get out, many of them want to remove themselves as far as possible and as soon as possible from "our kind", even when we sincerely want to help. They have come to neither trust us nor want to be around us.

I know I'm making a lot of generalities here. But at some level we should all agree that there is no clear line between "us" and "them". We are in God's eyes all imperfect sinners somewhere on a bell-shaped curve between saints on the one end of the spectrum and psychopaths on the other.

We might be forgiven, trying-to-do-better sinners, yes. But "they" and "us" are best seen as being a part of the same flawed human family.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Radically Resurrected Body

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"...on the third day he rose again..."

These words from the Apostles' Creed express the Christian conviction that death is incapable of destroying the life of Jesus and what he came on earth to accomplish. "He is risen indeed!" is a conviction believers around the world affirm with joy and celebration.

But believing in the literal resurrection of Jesus' body is only half of the gospel. The Easter event is in vain if it doesn't result in our becoming a vital part of a resurrected, reborn, transformed, and unified body of "Christ-ones" who have been given a new birth and who demonstrate an authentically Christ-like life.

To the extent that we are transformed into this kind of new worldwide community, whose members truly love one another and care about the wellbeing of everyone on earth, we become a living sign that Christ is "risen indeed".

According to an Ephesian text (2:4-6), we are "resurrected with Christ... raised up with Christ... and seated with him" in a position of awesome authority and responsibility. 

And that responsibility is to live out the message and ministry Jesus began when he was here on earth. In the living, breathing "body of Christ" the incarnation of God continues, God's mission of bringing hope and healing to a broken world goes on.

In the words of the apostle Paul, "those whom God foreknew he also fashioned in the likeness of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters" (Romans 8:29).

Is that a great calling or what?

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The best sermons are those that evoke further reflection on the part of those who hear them. The above represents some of my pondering after hearing a message by pastor Scott Austin on "Winsome Oneness" in a service we attended in Rochester, NY, with our daughter and family this past Sunday.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Another Ocean Of Blood Red Ink

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"We have entered into a league with death, and we have made a covenant with Sheol. When the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come upon us: for we have placed our hope in lies, and by falsehood we are protected."   
 - Isaiah 28:15 Douay-Rheims Bible

According to an October 2 article in the Washington Post the first of the Navy's newest atomic powered aircraft carrier fleet is already over $6 million over budget. It is also years behind schedule, and was pushed forward before all of the key technologies for it were fully designed or developed.

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, calls it a debacle of a magnitude comparable to that associated with the F-35 fighter plane, the F-22 Raptor and the Littoral Combat Ship. "We simply can't afford to pay $12.9 billion for a single ship," said McCain in a Senate hearing held Thursday, noting that the second of three ships is already an estimated five years behind schedule.

In the same issue of our daily newspaper columnist George Will cites Henry Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security as saying aircraft carriers of this kind may already be outdated in today's era of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs).

But none of this is likely to curb an outrageous level of spending by a death-dealing military-industrial complex with almost unlimited lobbying power.

Meanwhile, members of Congress quibble over a food stamp program that costs the national budget small change in comparison, and immediately benefits both food producers and the local economy. Our lawmakers have also recently ended health benefits to 9/11 first responders, insisting we can't afford to spend such money that we don't have, and in a way that further increases our national debt.

All of this is...
A. insane
B. immoral
C. outrageous
D. all of the above

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Guestpost: Tight Fists And Bleeding Hearts

Virginia reformer Mark Earley to speak here October 20
This op ed piece by local writer Reta Finger was published in the Daily News-Record October. I post it here with her permission:

On Sept. 4, when I gave blood, the nurse asked if I had read the booklet on the sign-up table. I had not. “If you don’t read this booklet and sign your name to show that you did, I could get five years in prison.” 

I read and signed!
Afterward, I thought, “Five years in prison? I know they don’t want contaminated blood, but does the punishment fit the crime?” Beyond scarring one nurse’s life, it would cost taxpayers like us $25,498 per year, totaling over $127,000!   
The next day I attended a “Summit on Reducing Recidivism,” organized by Kai Degner, a City Council member. Statistics for one day last summer, he said, showed that 88 percent of the 422 prisoners in our jail, plus those sent to Middle River Regional Jail in Staunton, had been jailed before. That’s 371 repeat offenders for whom we are paying the bill.
Various summit attendees suggested sentencing alternatives for nonviolent offenders, such as day reporting or attending substance-abuse services. Reporting in every day allows offenders to keep their jobs and families instead of disrupting so many lives. Conservatives might call such ideas “soft on crime” promoted by bleeding-heart liberals.
But conservative Republicans are taking the lead on criminal justice reform — here in Virginia and across the nation. They realize that past efforts for getting “tough on crime” were short-term fixes for a shocking long-term result: the United States, with 5 percent of the world’s population, incarcerates 25 percent of the world’s prisoners!
Are Americans more crime-prone than people in other countries? More likely it’s those mandatory sentences for drug abuses and “three strikes, you’re out” for repeat offenders. Degner noted that a very large percentage of inmates in our jails are there for drug and alcohol offenses. And 40 percent are jailed before their trial and sentencing — while still presumed innocent.
Law-and-order conservatives realize that past policies work against their creed of limited government. What can limited government mean when one out of every 100 Americans is under total control by the state?
Furthermore, fiscal conservatives notice that taxes spent on prisons don’t correct or rehabilitate the vast majority of inmates. Recently, 70 of the most influential figures in the conservative movement drew up a statement called “Right on Crime” that said “corrections spending has expanded to become the second fastest growing area of state budgets —trailing only Medicaid.” Signers included former Govs. Rick Perry and Jeb Bush. Wrote
 Ken Cuccinelli, a signer and a former Republican attorney general of Virginia: “For far too long, the only answer to decreasing crime was to put more people in prison. We built prisons at rates we didn’t need and couldn’t afford, especially for nonviolent offenders. Now, we know there are alternatives that cost less and work better.”
“Right on Crime” includes seven principles of criminal justice policy that are “vital to achieving a cost-effective system that protects citizens, restores victims, and reforms wrongdoers.”
Taxpayers should encourage our Community Criminals Justice Board to implement these alternatives.
To learn more, attend former Attorney General Mark Earley’s speech on Oct. 20, 7 p.m., at Eastern Mennonite University’s Martin Chapel. Early is an evangelical Christian who led Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship, and who co-chairs Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s commission reviewing parole. His topic is “Why America Is Incarcerating So Many People, And What We Can Do About It.”
We can join together in a common concern to learn of alternatives that will save money, prevent wasteful incarceration of nonviolent offenders, and provide re-entry services for those leaving prison.

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The following groups or agencies have signed on so far as co-sponsors of the event:

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding
Harrisonburg/Rockingham/Page Reentry Council
Harrisonburg/Rockingham Building A Better Community Working Group 
The Fairfield Center
Harrisonburg/Rockingham Interfaith Association
Community Mennonite Church
The JMU Ghandi Center
The Harriet Tubman Cultural Center
JMU Department of Justice Studies
Gemeinschaft Home
Virginia Organizing
The Martin Luther King Way Coalition
Harrisonburg Democratic Committee
NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center
Northeast Neighborhood Association
Immanuel Mennonite Church
On The Road Collaborative
Harrisonburg Police Department

Valley Family Forum
Harrisonburg City School Board

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Write-In For Lady Justice

Photo courtesy the Daily News-Record
She is not on our ballot, but this ancient personification of impartial justice towers from the pinnacle of our courthouse on Court Square in the heart of Harrisonburg — right in the middle of Rockingham County.
The Founders of our republic chose not to have symbols like a cross, crescent, or Star of David on public buildings, but this ancient sign of “liberty and justice for all” can be found everywhere. Holding a pair of scales in one hand, she promises fair and equal treatment regardless of race, wealth, religion or national origin. Sometimes she is also blindfolded to add to her image of absolute impartiality. In her other hand she holds a sword, symbolizing her duty to maintain order and public safety.
In a secular but faith-respecting government that is “of, by and for the people,” citizens are to support and uphold these ideals, and to advocate for the unfettered liberty of men and women to live, work and worship in accordance with their own conscience and convictions. And in regular elections, people are expected to vote in support of candidates they believe will best uphold the people’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Liberty can be abused, of course, and is not without limits, but the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free pursuit of personal liberties and rights to the greatest extent possible. Excessive regulation and massive incarceration, resulting in our having more people in prison than in any country in the world, are contradictory of these principles. We have become the land of the fettered and the home of the jailed.
This November, we have on our local ballots numerous candidates who will have an ongoing impact on local and statewide issues of liberty and justice for all, even though most of them, with the exception of the state senate race, are incumbents running unopposed.
Yet, voting can still be a way of registering a citizen’s convictions, the ultimate polling of public opinion. Where there is no choice some will make a statement by not endorsing an incumbent, or by exercising the write-in option.
But even more important than the effect of an individual vote is the year-round persistent influence we can have on our fellow citizens and with those in positions of power.
Menno Simons, a 16th-century Anabaptist reformer, wrote:
“Love compels us to respectfully and humbly show all high officials what the Word of God commands them, how they should rightfully execute their office ... to punish the transgressors and protect the good; to judge rightly between a man and his fellows; to do justice to the widows and orphans and to the poor, to rule cities and countries justly by a good policy and administration, not contrary to God’s Word but to the benefit of the common people.”
Menno acknowledged that the state had a God-given mandate to do justice, but he did not expect it to carry out a religious mission, per se. Yet people of faith were to call the on the powers that be to live up to their own highest ideals.
In other words, while we may not expect to have the likes of Jesus, Mother Teresa or St. Francis on our ballots, we can and should call our officials to live by a basic standard of morality, compassion and decency, and to truly support “liberty and justice for all.”
At a local level, this may call for a radical change of our bond policy, where all citizens are presumed innocent and remain free until proven guilty, unless they represent a significant danger to the community.
On a state level, it will call for reinstating a uniform and fair parole system that determines eligibility for release not on past criminal behavior, but on an inmate consistently demonstrating good citizenship even in a stressful, crime-ridden prison environment.
Lady Justice would approve.