Sunday, February 28, 2016

Then And Now: Some Excerpts From The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

link to source
As something of a history buff, I was curious to know how the tone and tenor of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates compared with some of the immature free-for-all political fights we witness today. Back then each candidate spoke for 60-90 minutes, with the other granted ample and uninterrupted time for a response.

Hundreds gathered from miles around to hear the two Senate candidates make their case in seven different Illinois cities. And while there were frequent catcalls from large, raucous crowds, Democrat Stephen E. Douglas and Republican Abraham Lincoln mostly avoided personal attacks and remained focused on the then critical issue of whether slavery should be extended to newly forming states that was deeply dividing the nation.

As you can see from the following brief excerpts, the new Republican party of the day was then the party representing more liberal ideas, like making a case for the eventual abolition of slavery, and it was the established Democratic party that was more set on maintaining the status quo.

Here is the Honorable Stephen Douglas:

I ask you, are you in favor of conferring upon the negro the rights and privileges of citizenship? Do you desire to strike out of our State Constitution that clause which keeps slaves and free negroes out of the State, and allow the free negroes to flow in, and cover your prairies with black settlements? Do you desire to turn this beautiful State into a free negro colony, in order that when Missouri abolishes slavery she can send one hundred thousand emancipated slaves into Illinois, to become citizens and voters, on an equality with yourselves? If you desire negro citizenship, if you desire to allow them to come into the State and settle with the white man, if you desire them to vote on an equality with yourselves, and to make them eligible to office, to serve on juries, and to adjudge your rights, then support Mr. Lincoln and the Black Republican party, who are in favor of the citizenship of the negro. For one, I am opposed to negro citizenship in any and every form. I believe this Government was made on the white basis. I believe it was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity for ever, and I am in favor of confining citizenship to white men, men of European birth and descent, instead of conferring it upon negroes, Indians, and other inferior races.  
[First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858]

Some responses by Mr. Lincoln:

I agree with Judge Douglas he (the negro) is not my equal in many respects—certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. 
[Debate at Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858]

... I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can just let her alone. 
[Debate at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858]

... (This) is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle. 
[Last debate at Alton, Illinois, October 15, 1858]

Friday, February 26, 2016

Some Great Post Graduate Education

Maybe I just wasn’t listening, but in spite of all my good childhood teachers, much of my best education for life came after I left the classroom. Here are some lessons I’m still learning in the age-old college of experience:

1. Becoming a full-fledged grownup takes time and work. I was in my forties when I realized how much I still thought of myself as the novice-come-lately, an inexperienced newcomer who had to accomplish twice as much as others to be seen as a competent and worthy adult. Not that I advocate being arrogant with others, just comfortably equal. I wish I had claimed that status sooner.

2. An ounce of prudence can prevent a ton of regret. I know mistakes are normal, and we can learn something from each of them, but I’ve also learned from experience that I don’t want to learn everything by experience. I’ve seen too many people desperately wishing they could go back in time and undo an impulsive decision they made in the past. I know I’ve made my full share of equally dumb moves, which only adds to my conviction that prevention is a lot better than cure.

3. Becoming a good human being is better than just being a great human doing I’m glad for the good work ethic I learned early on, but for too long I’ve tried to burn the candle at both ends, have become over-involved in too many good things. In my old age I’m learning that spending quality time with God and with my friends and family is just as important as getting more stuff done.

4. Establishing lasting influence is better than exercising temporary control. I’m slowly learning that pressuring people with lots of intense arguments is a huge waste of time. People are more open to hear our points of view when we do more reflective listening and less reactive talking. 

5. Maintaining good support networks is the best social security we can have. Since economies can fail, stock markets crash, and even whole nations collapse, our best long-term insurance is having communities and congregations of people so committed to each other that no one starves unless everyone starves. To the extent that we care for and nurture such communities, they will care for and nurture us. 

Now if I could only get a diploma with all that learning.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Incarcerated As Teens, These 21 Men Have Been Behind Bars For Decades Without Parole

Ranging from age 13 to 19 when charged, each of the following 21 inmates is parole eligible (having been incarcerated before parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995). Each also has worked at achieving a record of good behavior since in prison, and is now over 40, after which recidivism rates begin to drop significantly. Yet the Parole Board insists they continue to be punished for the crimes they committed when they were teens.

Name, age arrested, current age, years served
Mr. Orlando Strouther 18, 55, 36
Mr. Patrick Schooley 15, 52, 37
Mr. Jamie Gaithers 18, 49, 31
Mr. Shamont Burrell (kneeling) 18, 40, 22

Name, age arrested, current age, years served
Mr. Floyd Bouldin, Jr. 19, 48, 29
Mr. Andize Rucker 17, 51, 34
Mr. L. Jones 16, 48, 32
Mr. Quentin Liles 16, 47, 31
Mr. Brian Johnson 17, 42, 25

Name, age arrested, current age, years served
Mr. Anthony Talley 18, 42, 24
Mr. Robert Fitchett 15, 52, 37
Mr. Shawn Booker 18, 24, 42
Mr. S. Haskins 16, 43, 27

Name, age arrested, current age, years served
Steven Van Fleet 17, 40, 23
Mr. Rick Herring 18, 42, 24
Larry Kennedy 13, 47, 31
Wayne Beckham 16, 38, 22
Alfonzo Shelton 19, 47, 28

Name, age arrested, current age, years served
Mr. A. Talley 16, 48, 32
Mr. Michael Gaumer 17, 40, 23
Mr. Frank Allen 17, 47, 30

Keeping these 21 inmates in steel cages is costing Virginians a total of $588,000 annually (at $28,000 a year), plus all of the costs of their not having the opportunity to become responsible contributing members of society. 

Express your parole concerns to your State Senator, State Delegate, and to the following:

Ms. Karen Brown, chair
Virginia Parole Board
6900 Atmore Drive
Richmond, VA 23225
(804) 674-3081

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

The Honorable Brian Moran
Secretary of Public Safety
Patrick Henry Building, Third Floor
1111 East Broad Street

Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-5351

Attorney General Mark R. Herring
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-2071

The Honorable Terrence McAuliffe, Governor
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building, Third Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219
(you can ask for a response)

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mein Trump Daily

Be it ever so humble

Trump trumping Trump.

Trump, trump, Trump!

"TRUMP!" trumps Trump.

Trump (Trump) and more Trump.


Trump, Inc.

Trump de Trump

Trump trumpeting Trump.



Sunday, February 21, 2016

"I Want To Die Easy"

A rabbi was once asked, “Why do we in this life always have to be faced with the fact that we must all soon die?”

His answer was, “So that we will truly appreciate the value and preciousness of our time here on this earth, and make the most of every moment.”

My father came from a family plagued by untimely deaths. His mother died at age 35 as a result of complications from her fourth pregnancy, when my Dad was only three years old. And that was the third of my grandfather Dan Yoder’s wives to have died as young women in their prime.

The first one, Lucy, died of measles at age 23, leaving him with two children, John and Anna. Then their baby Anna also died of measles on the day of her mother’s burial.

My grandfather’s next wife, Rebecca, died at age 29 of tuberculosis, leaving six children behind, the youngest of whom also died of tuberculosis within six weeks of her mother’s death. Then wife number three, my grandmother Elizabeth, lost what would have been her fourth child in the childbirth that claimed her own life. 

Death was an all too familiar part of rural midwestern life over a hundred years ago, and my family’s story was no exception. One of the blessings I have inherited from that is the realization that I have only so much good time left, and that I want to die used up and somehow “finished” to the greatest extent possible.

For me, that means investing as much of what little influence I have for good, and for God, here on earth as possible for as long as possible. When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” I believe it was not so much as an expression of despair as a declaration of a life mission accomplished, so that he could, at age 33, say, "Into your hands I commit my spirit". Those words, from Psalm 31:5, are part of a prayer every Hebrew child was taught to pray at bedtime, as in “now I lay me down to sleep”.

I hope that end-of-the-day rest can be accompanied by as little physical agony as possible, but I know I can't control that. But when that day comes, I hope I can be surrounded by those who love me and who will lovingly release me into God's good care.

As in the words of the Negro spiritual, "I want to die easy when I die."

I wrote the following as a reflection on my 75th birthday:

Can an old man continue to see visions and dream dreams

and finally lay himself down to sleep
well content when his time comes
feeling finished and fulfilled
at winter's end and eager to
welcome eternal spring?
yes, shalom
yes, peace

Friday, February 19, 2016

Heartbreaking--When Hope For Parole Is Dashed, For The 17th Time
The following is by Mr. Gregory Goodman, an honorably discharged veteran and a 25-year Virginia inmate. His 17th parole request was denied last month:

I was at work in the barbershop when my supervising officer told me to report to my counselor's office.

I prayed during the long walk there.

"Mr. Goodman?"

"Yes," I said, while trying to read him for clues regarding my fate on the Parole Board letter he held.

The letter's bold "not grant" wording struck me first; I scanned the rest of the page like a drowning man desperate for a helping hand. I shakily sat down in the cramped office, already dreading having to tell my family the heartbreaking news and hearing the hurt in momma's voice, the hurt and bewilderment in my sister's, and then writing my annual, disappointing letters and facebook messages to my extended family and friends: "I'm sorry, but I didn't make it... Not this year."

As background, two days after my last video-conferenced parole interview, my mother had suffered a heart attack. She was standing on the porch supervising my brother's work on the house. Shawn saw her double over and caught her just before she fell.

At one point my parole interviewer had asked about an earlier meeting my mother had with the Reverend Dr. Lincoln A. James, a Virginia Parole Board member. My family and a friend had reported a very encouraging meeting with him on October 8, 2015. "They said the meeting went great," I said, "My sister thought it went excellent". I smiled remembering my sister's enthusiasm and their happiness about the likelihood of me returning home.

Between their hope-filled account and answering the questions I asked, I was on the phone with my family for an hour. They had submitted my Parole Packet/Reentry Plan and said everything that was on their hearts regarding my crime, remorse, rehabilitation and my preparedness for release after 25 years in prison, as had I myself in my parole interview.

The intervening months had found us increasingly hopeful, and confident that all of our hard work would bear fruit this year. We discussed my homecoming, trips to my parole officer and to Durham's office of Veteran's Affairs (its job programs), my short and long term goals, and momma's list of "Things for me to do".

Being denied parole is like being told of a loved one's death. We, the bereaved, grieve a lifetime of time we've lost and will lose with each other. I am grieving now for the time I'll lose with my ailing mother--and sister, who has been on dialysis for nearly twenty years--both of whom desperately want and need me home. I'm grieving the death of myriad opportunities to serve them and my community, to be the productive citizen I am capable of being. I am grieving the death of my second chance.

Words fall short of expressing how sorry I feel for these losses, how sorry I am for all our losses, the victims of my robberies, and of my family's and good friends' who bury our time together daily, as we have done for over 25 years now.

After being denied parole, my family, friends and I experience a sort of mourning and start offering each other condolences. There is a lot of sorrow and many tears. Sadly, we are all acquainted with this process and the five stages of grief, denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Depression has been particularly difficult this year. Remorse and taking responsibility for ones crimes will do this, especially after acknowledging that I drove my life over this cliff, and that my decisions that day, clouded though they were, caused me to be taken away from my family so long ago. This is all true. But it is also true that undiagnosed PTSD (from my military service) and self-medicating its symptoms provided the fuel.

I have been cycling though all but the last stages of grief, acceptance. I cannot accept acceptance, that I am never going home, or that I am not going home next year. Neither can my family and friends.

We are not yet estranged from hope, though I'm sure that each of us at some point has come close. Like shortly after I'm denied parole and I don't call home as often, or write friends as regularly, because I feel like a failure, and a sore reminder of our collective failure. When all of the rehabilitative programs completed, all of the years of exemplary behavior, coupled with all of our advocacy, Reentry Plans, letters to the Parole Board and meeting with Lincoln A. James are for naught.

Years ago a blessed friend who'd been granted parole showed me his grant letter from the Parole board, his golden ticket home. The letter was short and happily to the point.

It was significantly different from the two-page form letter I've been receiving for 17 years, which ends, consolingly, with "While this may not be the answer you hoped for, please continue your hard work." Preceding this line are several paragraphs of official platitudes that kick me in the gut and crush mine and my loved ones' hearts.

Two days after my mother's heart attack she had quadruple bypass surgery. The operation was a success and momma's recovery is on schedule. Her progress in cardiac therapy occupy many of my thoughts, as does the Governor's Commission on Parole Review, its recommendations, and bills regarding parole reform in the General Assembly. I pray this isn't just hot air that raises spirits to heights that approach fairness and a second chance, only to be shot down again by scorn, unforgiving attitudes and partisanship. Our hopes are already riddled with holes. I am amazed at their resiliency and how they stay aloft.

In the coming months I'll improve my Reentry Plan and my skills as a barber, submit short stories and poetry for publication, and continue helping my fellow veterans incarcerated, "because we were veterans first". I'll help my family navigate whatever challenges 2016 will bring. I'll distance myself even further from the crimes committed 25 years ago on November 19, 1990, and from the negative statistic I was, toward the positive one I am capable of--a successful returned citizen.

This of course will require exhuming our aggrieved hopes and resuscitating them with renewed commitment, as I continue to distinguish myself and qualify for a substantive parole review.

What motivates me?

Like all rehabilitated men and women, I have reached the tipping point, the point where years of evidenced preparations have equipped me with more to offer my family, friends and community than I once took from them.

- Gregory Goodman #1101523 
Augusta correctional Center
1821 Estaline Valley Road
Craigsville, VA 24430

Express your parole concerns to your State Senator, State Delegate, and to the following:

Ms. Karen Brown, chair

Virginia Parole Board
6900 Atmore Drive
Richmond, VA 23225
(804) 674-3081
Mr. Algie T. Howell, Jr., vice-chair 
Ms. Andrea Bennett
The Reverend Doctor A. Lincoln James 
Mr. Sherman R. Lea 
Mr. Minor F. Stone

The Honorable Brian Moran
Secretary of Public Safety
Patrick Henry Building, Third Floor
1111 East Broad Street

Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-5351

Attorney General Mark R. Herring
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-2071

The Honorable Terrence McAuliffe, Governor
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building, Third Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219
(you can ask for a response)

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

"The Parole Board's mission is to grant parole to those offenders whose release is compatible with public safety."

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

For Parents: Which Is More Important, Control Or Influence?

Children's self-control needs to increase as their parents' control decreases. 
Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night."                                                                                      - Deuteronomy 6:6-8 (the Message)

"As long as you're under our roof you'll do as we say!" is the undisputed rule in some households.

With that perspective, parents assume the right to fully control their children's choices until they are of age or leave home. Then they are presumably free to do whatever they want, regardless of how they have been taught.

Or is it wiser to gradually give our offspring more and more responsibility for themselves--within some clear and reasonable boundaries--while we are still there to guide and help them with their choices? And in the meantime, to consistently model and teach the kinds of good behaviors and values we want our children to live by?

Of course not everything is up to the child to decide, but a major part of the job description of parents is to "raise" our young, to "bring them up" in a way that helps them become responsible decision makers, and not simply to make all their decisions for them and to "keep them in their place". In other words, the goal of wise parents is to help prepare children to be responsible fellow adults who can function on their own. After all, they will normally outlive us.

Parenting expert Michael Popkin cautions against becoming either "dictator" parents or "doormat parents", but to be assertive moms and dads who recognize that control of our children, which is nearly absolute when they are infants, needs to be replaced by parental guidance and influence as they become older and prepare to launch.

When we are too set on maintaining total control, we tend to lose the influence we hope to have for the rest of our lives. But if we turn over the reins gradually, we will have fewer power struggles and we will likely be more effective in helping prepare our daughters and sons for the real world, which hopefully will not be one ruled by dictators but by citizens working together to create and maintain healthy congregations and communities.

Children are born with a drive to become autonomous and self-controlled. We often interpret that as a form of rebellion, and sometimes it does come out that way, but it is also a necessary part of their growing up and preparing to take their place as fully functioning fellow adults.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Gratitude-Based Giving--Loving God With All Our Possessions

One of our lectionary texts yesterday (on Valentine's Day, no less) was the Deuteronomy passage on the giving of firstfruit offerings and of tithes. In our study at house church we found in it a sharp contrast between the celebrative way God's people were to financially support their new nation (a kingdom governed by priests rather than by monarchs), and the begrudging way we tend to fulfill our financial obligations to our congregations, community and governments today.

The annual offering of fresh produce from their newly gifted land involved a liturgy in which each Israelite household prepared a basket of the best and first of their harvest. Upon bringing this cornucopia of plenty to the priest, they were to announce something like the following (paraphrased):

"I hereby acknowledge that I (formerly landless) have inherited the gracious and undeserved gift of a land that God promised our ancestors."

The priest then received the basket of fresh produce and placed it on the altar, after which grateful and blessed Israelites were to recite something like:

Our ancestor Jacob was a wandering and landless Aramean
who went down to Egypt and lived there,
he and his small family,
but there they multiplied and we became many.
The Egyptians abused us and subjected us to cruel slavery.
We cried out to the God of our ancestors
who listened to our desperate prayers,
who took pity on us in our terrible plight,
and brought us out of Egypt
by great and miraculous means,
and brought us to this grace-filled place,
a land of abundant milk and honey.
So here we are with the best of the firstfruits 
of what the land God has given us has produced.
(paraphrase of Deuteronomy 26:5-10)

All who brought their gifts from far and wide were to then bow before the altar of God in heartfelt celebration of all of the blessings received. And according to other texts, the priests (Levites) then hosted a huge buffet in which all who were assembled enjoyed a thanksgiving feast, including any landless aliens or sojourners among them.

We found this a good reminder yesterday that our financial and other giving is less like a "tax" we owe our Creator, or simply a form of rent we pay for the privilege of inhabiting such a beautiful earth, but our offerings should be a lavish expression of the lover's covenant we have with God, a God of grace and mercy for all. As in all Valentine-like relationships of the heart, our lavish gifts are expressions of "endearments" and not just of "demandments".

Friday, February 12, 2016

As We Witness A Holocaust of Historic Proportions, Where Are The Pro-Life Voices?

Just one of multitudes of child casualties of air raids in Syria
Sad to say, the unbelievable tragedy of the widening war in Syria has yet to result in widespread outrage. It's all too easy for people of faith and goodwill around the world to look the other way while untold numbers of innocent people are being permanently maimed, horribly burned and buried alive by drone strikes and bombing every day.

Less than a century ago the world largely turned away when millions of Jews and other minorities were similarly exterminated and forced to flee as refugees. Through seeking the military solution of World War II, over 50 million lives were sacrificed worldwide.

Today's increased military response to the Syrian crisis has added immeasurably to the suffering. Resorting to bombs still remains the primary problem, not the solution, and the least we can do is to promote humanitarian efforts toward peacemaking and toward a radical increase in material aid to the millions of refugees affected.

So what if each of us at least matched the amount of our tax money currently going for military purposes with contributions for emergency relief aid? What if we temporarily diverted our giving through our local congregations until they agreed to invest at least 10% of their budgets toward this emergency?

Here are just a few of the reputable agencies working in the region that are in desperate need of increased funding, according to Myriam Azis, former UNHCR Senior Resettlement Assistant for Syrian Refugees and currently a student at EMU's Center For Justice and Peacebuilding:

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Oxfam America

Mercy Corps

Mennonite Central Committee

I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Guest Post: "Classic Injustice Collectors"

Mary Ann Yutzy, with husband Daniel and some grandchildren
With our niece Mary Ann Yutzy's kind permission, here is one of her recent great posts on her blog "Stepping Out":
It was an ordinary Friday morning, Jan. 22, 2016, to be exact. I was straightening up my kitchen, doing meds and trying to make some resemblance of order on the counter where everything gets stashed, when a story came on NPR’s Morning Edition. I was half listening, half off in another world when something caught my ear. For real!
The announcer was talking about acts of violence that were blamed on ISIS, when there is no verifiable connection between the perpetrator(s) and the ISIS organization. The phrase that caught my attention was this: “The attacks dubbed as ISIS-inspired in this country have tended to be the work of what law enforcement officials call ‘classic injustice collectors.’ ” The commentator went on to say that these are people who have been nursing various resentments for years, and when someone or something happens to push them too far, they “re-invent themselves, using whatever cause will give them a greater sense of purpose as well as . . . publicity.”
“Classic injustice collectors.” That phrase stuck in my mind as I reviewed some events that I’ve been spectator and party to over the past months, and with a pang I realized that it is that business of “injustice collecting” that often plays havoc in my life and in the lives of people I love. As people of principle, it’s easy for us to accumulate the injustices of our world and the circles in which we move, and to have a sense of being called to bring justice. Especially if it is people we love.
Let me hasten to add that there are injustices of the world that we ought to address. The poor, the prisoner, the alien, the defenseless and enslaved. We should never hold back from doing what God has moved on our hearts to do. But there are many other things that I’m reminded of with vivid (and regrettable) clarity. There have been so many situations where I have chosen to let my feelings run away with me (“I’d rather be mad!”) or wanted my own way enough to withdraw (“If you don’t play my way, I’ll just take my ball and go home!”). Over and over again, it’s easy to think that people are being insensitive or intentionally hurtful when in fact they are just unaware of how a particular thing might be looking to us and might be unaware of what it is that we desperately want or need.
And yes, that can be hurtful, too. To think that people don’t care enough to find out what it is that we need, or how we feel or where we are vulnerable can really add to our sense of inadequacy, unimportance or injury. And so, we collect the injustices like it’s our job, tallying them up, holding them seethingly in our hearts and then, one day when no one, (maybe/probably not even ourselves) is expecting it, it all comes pouring out in the name of a cause that it somehow felt right for us to align ourselves with. And people are surprised at our venom, confused by our alleged motives, frightened by our rampage and bewildered in the aftermath. (Where did that come from, and why?)
I find this especially hurtful in the family of God, but I’m suggesting it is nearly as prevalent here as in general society. We are “classic injustice collectors” with a spiritual twist. And sometimes it’s so easy for me to justify what I am feeling with a Biblical injunction or instruction. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a part of a church family. About how easy it is to carry a grudge quietly or to be so thin-skinned that almost anything can set the wrong way with me. And this morning, again, I was thinking about the words of Jesus when he said that we are to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, bless when we are cursed, pray for the ones who persecute us. And the words in Corinthians when we are instructed to give up our rights for our brothers and sisters and that we are to forgive.
Forgive. That’s the word right there. The only way to living free of the bondage of having to collect is to forgive. Where else in all the world is there a word that encapsulates a loosening of chains like this one? I looked up synonyms for this word and some of them are extravagantly descriptive. (“Dismiss from mind,” “bear no malice,” “wipe slate clean,” “allow for,” “bear with.”) Words that would change the state of my heart as well as my outlook if I were to just live there!
I honestly believe that it’s impossible on our own. And when I say, “that’s what GRACE is for,” I know it sounds trite, overused and simplistic. But it’s still Truth. God’s GRACE, extended so freely to us, is the means by which we extend grace to others, offer forgiveness, live in forgiveness, and empty out that collection of offenses.
We all have things that we feel we have to have, or we want deeply. I really like it when I can feel understood. Even if someone doesn’t agree with me, if they understand where I’m coming from, that feels good. There are a few other areas that are very important to me, and I’ve written and re-written this paragraph as I’ve tried to defend myself against past charges. It suddenly occurred to me that I was collecting offenses again, as I thought about complaints that have troubled me that I wish I could somehow straighten and disagreements over petty things that I’ve allowed to fester in this old heart. Some of these are as old as our marriage. Some are a recent as this week. Will I never learn?
And so, tonight, once again, I turn a heart that knows the darkness of the suffocating blanket of offense to the light of God’s truth and the blaze of his Holiness. May he shed light and truth and peace into those corners where old affronts and injuries (real or imagined) cower, awaiting the chance to rear their unseemly heads. And may the freedom wrought by their dispersal be that which will lead more than this Delaware grammy home.
I’m not able to do this. But I know the one who is.
For this and for so much more, my heart gives grateful praise.
MaryAnn Yutzy lives in Milford, Del. She blogs at

Monday, February 8, 2016

How My Adopted Sister Found Her Biological Father--And A Missing Part Of Herself

John Hite, united with his daughter, my adopted sister, in '99 
My dear younger sister Mary Beth came into our home as a foster child at four months of age. At age 69 she and her husband Harven, 77, died in a tragic fire that destroyed their mobile home in Greene County on the night of December 12. The following is a touching letter she wrote to members of our family over 16 years ago:

March 13, 1999

Dear family,

Well I want to sit here tonight and write a story for all of you so you will get it first hand.

I was born in 1946. In February, 1947, I was taken to a house so full of love. I was a happy little girl living there, at least as long as I knew I belonged there.

When I got older there was an empty place in my heart because I knew that out there in this big world was somebody I belonged to, someone whose heart missed me like I did them. Oh I was very special to this big family that gave me so much love. But outside of this loving family were people who couldn't understand how Ben Yoders could take into their home some child who was not born to them.

At the time I didn't realize that it was because Ben and Mary Yoder had a bigger and broader heart and had opened it up to more than just their offspring. They had love for all of God's creation, but for me it was a big empty hole because I felt that I was so bad even my Mama couldn't love me, and Mamas were supposed to love everybody. Where had I gone wrong to be so little and not be loved by a Mama?

I overheard some of the older women of the church telling each other that Mary Beth had bad blood in her because of her mother. So every Sunday for a long time at church I'd pick my nose to get the bad blood out. Oh it sounds so stupid now, but to a little girl I thought people would like me if I got the bad blood out of me.

There were times I thought people would see me coming and turn away and act like they didn't see me. Or if in Sunday School they would always run for the chair farthest away from me. Maybe no one else even noticed it, but I did.

Many a night I fell asleep crying because I felt no one wanted out there wanted me, and that I must have been no good. So I decided to do everything I could to get people to like me, since I was so different from everybody. The "English" [a term used by the Amish for "outsiders"] didn't want me either because I was different. So which way do you go?

My sister as a teen
Some of the mistakes I made in life were made just to get people to notice me and like me. Well, I know I'm loved by lots of people and I feel whole for once in my life.

Four weeks ago I had the best surprise I could have asked for. It was on a late Monday afternoon and I felt like I wanted to talk to my [biological] half-sister, so I called her. She said she had some very exciting news for me. Her husband, the overseer of the Augusta Memorial Cemetery, said he had buried three people that day, including a Raymond Knight, and my Mom spoke up and said, "Not Knight, but Hite." She [my mother] said Raymond was my uncle and Johnny Hite was my father. Then she quickly said, "Oh, but he's dead."

My sister Beda waited until Mom left then looked in the "Obits" and saw that Raymond was survived by Ella of Staunton, Kenneth of Staunton, Johnny of Waynesboro and Marie of Indiana, and Beda said we needed to take a day and hunt for them. So Friday morning we went to the funeral home, but had no success, then went to the church where Raymond was a member to talk to the minister, but he wasn't at home. Then we went to where the preacher worked and they gave us Ella's phone number, but she didn't answer her phone. They told us she might be at Raymond's house cleaning it out, but she wasn't there, either.

I was about ready to cry, but decided to go to the next door neighbor's house. The lady there was friendly, and said Ella used to work at the District Home in Waynesboro and that Johnny Hite was a resident there. So off we went to the District Home.

When I got there I froze. My sister told me I had come this far and to not give up, so I got out of the car and went in. I asked the lady there if there was a John Hite there, and she said I had to talk to the head nurse. When the nurse came down the hall she asked me did I need help, and before I could tell her what I wanted she asked me if I was John Hite's daughter.

I almost hit the floor. I asked her why and she said I looked like him across the eyes and nose. I told her I had always been told my father was dead, but had learned on Monday he was still alive. She said, "Oh yes, Oh yes," and she showed me his whole record

When she asked me if I wanted her to go with me to see him, I was so glad, because at that time I was scared to pieces. When we knocked on his door and came in, he seemed surprised to have anyone come see him. He was lying down, and when he got up and looked at these two strangers who walked in his room he looked at me and said, "You're my daughter." [Beda is not his]

All the nurses cried, and so did I. He was so happy he cried, too. Since then I've seen him two to three times a  week. The nurses and even the administrator told me that before I came into his life he never smiled or talked much, now it's all he talks about.

He's been moved to Staunton to a much nicer place, but he hates it there and wants to be out on his own. So soon I might see if I can find a place for him.

Finding him I now feel like I know me. All the parts of me feeling so empty are now filled. I have a mother and half sister [that she had found earlier], now a new step brother, two aunts and an uncle I didn't know anything about. My uncle and aunts are just amazed at my finding them. They seem to not believe that such good luck could have befallen them.

I'm happy, too. But I'm also glad I have a family like the Yoders, and I'm glad I got my start in life in the Yoder family. I don't believe I'd be as whole in finding my blood family if I hadn't had that upbringing.

I thank God and all of you for that.

Aunt Beth and sister Beth

Here's a link to a tribute to my sister's life

Saturday, February 6, 2016


One of hundreds of deserving men in Virginia prisons, the second from the left was incarcerated at 16,  has served 36 years and has been denied parole 12 times.
This is the first of an occasional "newsletter" containing items gleaned from inmate letters:

Some Parole Eligible Inmates Decline Release Interviews

According to a recent letter from a Virginia correctional facility (not the one housing the above), some 49 offenders there decided to forgo their parole interviews in February. They have all been behind bars for over 20 years (before parole was abolished), and have each been repeatedly turned down for parole release in spite of their best efforts. They remain as committed as ever to earning their release, but no longer see any use in meeting with their parole interviewer. "Only three of over 243 parole inmates have been granted parole here in the last three quarters," stated one inmate, "and we don't want to sit down and talk with an interviewer if they have shown no desire to release us."

Question For Virginia's Parole Board

One prisoner writes, "Is it lawful for the Parole Board to consider an inmate's prior criminal record when determining eligibility for parole? The Virginia legislature enacted a statutory parole review procedure [Va. code 53.1-155(A)] that creates an expectation of parole release based on inmates' behavior while incarcerated, yet the Board continues to arbitrarily detain thousands of parole eligible felons for reasons of the crime they committed, no matter what rehabilitation ('correction') they have demonstrated."

Prison Food Budget Cut by Over $1 Million

The 2015 Virginia Department of Corrections budget for food and food supplies and services was cut by $1,363,459 from the prior year, according to the Management Information Summary Annual Report (page 20), as researched by one inmate. He also cites the increased use of low-grade processed meats he fears increases everyone's risk of cancer. At one men's facility as many as 100 inmates at a time are locked in their chow hall with only one officer in charge, raising concerns about what could happen in case of a fire or a fight.

Inmate's Granddaughter Makes Contact After Seeing Blog Post

"My granddaughter is now 16 and lives with her mother. She came across your blog about my accomplishments and looked me up on the JPAY email services. I had not seen her in eight years. She is a gifted honor student and wants to go to college to pursue forensic psychology. I feel my short moment of influence can inspire her to excel. Yes, it does make a difference to do right, even when others think the worst of you and don't really know you. I told my wife that my granddaughter had read your blog and found me, and she thanks you also."

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Some Favorite Words From Menno Simons 1496-1561


I especially like the following quotes by Menno Simons, a contemporary of Martin Luther who became a prominent Anabaptist (free church) leader in the Netherlands and who died January 31, 1561: 

    "True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it returns good for evil, it seeks that which is lost, it binds up the wounded, it becomes all things to all people."

    "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 the glory and praise of God... 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."

    "We who were formerly no people at all, and who knew no peace, are now called to be a church of peace. True Christians do not know vengeance... Their hearts overflow with peace. Their mouths speak peace, and they walk in the way of peace."

    "The regenerated do not go to war, or engage in strife. They are the children of peace, who have beaten their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and they know no war. Since we are conformed to the image of Christ, how then can we kill our enemies with the sword? Spears and swords made of iron we leave to those, alas, who consider human blood and swine’s blood as having well nigh equal value."

    "Therefore, my precious brothers and sisters in the Lord, take the crucified Christ as your example, and the apostles and prophets of God. They were so endowed and trained by God that they knew nothing, sought nothing, loved and desired nothing but the eternal treasure--God--and eternal life." 

                - from the Complete Works of Menno Simons