Thursday, March 31, 2016

There Were 60 Times More US Bomb Strikes Than Terrorist Attacks Last Year

2015 US airstrike, location unknown
2015 Bagdad Hotel terrorist bombing
All of us are sickened by reports of suicide bombings and other acts of senseless terror around the world, a total of 389 in 2015 alone. Most of the untold number of victims are civilians.

What gets less media attention is the number of US bomb, drone and missile strikes in the Middle East and neighboring regions each year, an estimated total of 23,144 in 2015, or nearly sixty times the number of terrorist attacks. While our air strikes are aimed at killing combatants, in a war without conventional battlefields the civilian toll from even the most carefully targeted air raids far exceeds that of the more primitive suicide and car bombing attacks.

Regrettably, the human suffering and destruction that results is the same.

Somewhere we have gotten the idea that violence launched from the ground is more deadly and more evil than violence from the air. But bombs are bombs, whether highly sophisticated or very primitive delivery systems are employed to launch them.

It seems especially ironic that a Nobel Peace Prize winning President should be the commander-in-chief authorizing most of this carnage, which in turn is creating ever more vicious and unconscionable counter-attacks.

Ultimately, violence will never be stopped by violence. We should have learned that by now.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Is MRRJ Investing In Better Health Services? Follow The Money

Middle River Regional Jail

Many of us hoped for a positive response to the Staunton News-Leader's editorial in August, 2015, calling for an independent investigation of the Middle River Regional Jail's medical and other practices. This was followed in December by Channel 29 airing a three-part series investigating the deaths of three inmates whose families allege medical neglect and malpractice.

To add to our hope, the local Daily News-Record recently cited an unsigned and undated report from MRRJ noting a number of positive changes being made in medical services in light of their inmate population having grown from around 350 in 2006 to a current 750.

Unfortunately, their budget numbers fail to support any such change. MRRJ's annual allocation for prescriptions, for example, ($25,000), is exactly the same for 2015-16 as for 2006-07, its first year of operation. Even more puzzling is the fact that in each of four departments (salaries, contracted health services, prescriptions, and medical supplies) they have underspent the money available in their budget by tens of thousands each year.

With the more than $1 million thus "saved" in the last decade, we taxpayers deserve to know what happened to the unspent funds. Why hasn't the budget for medical services doubled with the inmate population? Why has MRRJ's spending per inmate for healthcare consistently been only half of that of most other jails in the area?

Can our Community Criminal Justice Board (which hasn't met since it approved our buy-in of MRRJ over a year ago) help us find an answer? Can the Daily News-Record? Or members of our City Council and/or County Board of Supervisors? 

Someone needs to follow the money.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Prominent ISIL Leader Killed On Good Friday

Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli
According to a statement issued last week by the Defense Department, American forces killed a top Islamic State leader on Good Friday in eastern Syria. An ISIL vehicle carrying Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, the organization's second in command, was pursued by two special forces helicopters on a road in eastern Syria and totally destroyed.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter hailed Mr. Qaduli’s death as another sign that the US-led military strategy for defeating ISI is working. Killing the leaders of a movement is still believed to be the surest way to bring it to an end. 

I couldn't help but think of the irony of this in light of another state-sponsored assassination nearly 2000 years ago, in which the ruling establishment sought to rid the world of someone seen as a threat to what was then the greatest power on earth, the Roman empire. But if there was ever an example of the killing the leader of a movement having an exactly opposite effect, that would be it.

Ancient portrayal of resurrection victory over Rome
The death of Jesus was followed by a miracle resurrection, one that heralded the new birth of a radical movement of peace-promoting, enemy-loving believers that ended in the eventual decline and fall of a once mighty world empire.

Of course, the mission and message of Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli and that of Jesus Christ could hardly be more opposite. One was bent on bringing about God's rule by the use of terror and violence, the other represents a suffering Messiah bringing peace, redemption and the restoration of shalom to a lost and needy world.

May we all lay down our arms, take up our cross and follow him with believers everywhere, confident that his is the only way to a life that endures.

Friday, March 25, 2016

For Good Friday: A Body Bruised and Bloodied

"This is my body, broken for you."

A human body has height and weight, flesh and blood, skeleton and skin. It is made up of muscles and tendons, neurons and nerve cells, lungs and lymph nodes, distinctive shades of eye, hair and skin color, pleasure centers and pain receptors, all complex and amazing.

"This is my body, broken for you."

A human body is vulnerable to bruises, lacerations, exhaustion, hunger, concussions, diseases, contusions, hemorrhaging, agonizing pain, thirst, abrasions, fractures, infections, seizures, death.

"This is my body, broken for you."

In his incarnation, Jesus did not come as a disembodied spirit, as one who merely resembled a body, or who simply inhabited one. He "emptied himself" of divine powers and privileges and took on the physicality of the most ordinary of humans, a 'doulos' or slave, one who exists for the service of others.

"This is my body, broken for you."

As Protestants, we have tended to interpret as figurative Jesus's references to the bread and cup of the Last Supper being his very flesh and blood. But should we pay more attention to the Eucharist as God's way of ending the divide between us, as God truly becoming incarnate in us, as Jesus bodily living and reproducing himself through us?

"This is my body, broken for you."

In partaking of the Lord's Supper, we are not only recalling the death of Jesus, but we are celebrating his resurrection. We are experiencing the reality that Jesus lives on in his followers, continues his mission of announcing good news to the poor, of liberating captives and bringing healing and shalom salvation into the world through his reborn people. 

"This is my body, broken for you."

As Servant-Savior, Jesus experiences the full impact of the suffering brought on by the world's violence and evil. And he continues to suffer in the bodies of the world's refugees, those who are lost and lonely, broken and homeless, those experiencing the ravages of famine and disease, all who traumatized and brutalized by war, and all who are victims of state sponsored terrorism as he himself was.

Having endured it all in his broken body, God has declared an end to its evil, offers the world a new life redeemed from it. 

If only we would fully receive God's brokenness, ingest it bodily, and have it become an ongoing part of our own everyday rescued and resurrected lives.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

In Love With Life--Our Lovina 1926-2016

photos courtesy of grandson Eldon Yoder
I'll forever remember the evening of March 2, one I spent by my oldest sister Lovina's bed, next to that of her ailing husband Ernest's, in the modest home they had built on their farm near Rustburg in Campbell County.

I had scheduled a flight that was to leave from Roanoke early the next morning for a trip to visit our older brother Sanford and his family in Costa Rica, so I wanted to be sure to be able to see her before I left.

Lovina was one of the more petite members of our family, but with the kind of ready smile and radiant energy that could light up a very large room. She loved life, and had a way of making everyone she met feel welcomed and warmed.

Ernest and Lovina
In late 1947, within a year and a half of our move from Kansas to the Valley, Lovina married her beloved Ernest when she was just short of 20 and he was 21. The two were inseparable partners who celebrated a rare quality of compatibility and camaraderie. Together they raised a family of seven fine children and were blessed with multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Lovina loved them all lavishly, just as she had loved and nurtured all of her eight younger siblings. So I found it way beyond necessary for me to tell her on that last night, in her semi-conscious state from strokes she had suffered just weeks before, how much I loved her and how much I would miss her as my special, special oldest sister.

She and I each inherited our mother's love for reading and our father's love of history, and Lovina spent many hours over many years gathering historical information to add to both the Campbell County and our family's story. I was also influenced by her love of gardening and her delight in all of God's creation, along with her interest in local jail inmates she visited and wrote to.

But words fail me right now. Small as she was in size, to me she will always be larger than life. When I learned upon my arrival in Costa Rica that she had passed, and that I, as well as my aging older brother, would not be able to attend her funeral, I felt both a sense of great loss and a sense of a great blessing that I will always carry with me.

I would like to become more like her, and to one day die as she did, with mission accomplished and surrounded by God's grace and her family's love.

Monday, March 21, 2016

What If Our Correctional System Could Operate More Like Our Healthcare System?

Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail
Augusta Health, main entrance
My oldest living sister was taken by ambulance to Augusta Health last week with extreme fatigue and difficulty breathing. After being treated in the Emergency Room she was assigned to the Intensive Care Unit, where she was put on oxygen and given round the clock attention. Within a day she was found to have a 90% blockage in one of the arteries to her heart, resulting in her having a stint installed.

From the first we had conversations with her medical staff as to what would be the best treatment for her condition, with the goal being to get her returned home and being able to resume a normal, productive life as soon as possible. Currently she is assigned to spend 7-8 days in the skilled nursing department at the hospital, where she will have various therapies to help her regain her heart and body strength to return home sometime next week, where she will be provided needed assistance from others in her family and church family.

As always, I was impressed with the professional staff and state of the art facilities at Augusta Health, providing treatment based on the most updated medical research available.

By contrast, our nation's "correctional" facilities are operated in pretty much the same medieval manner they were centuries ago, when we first came up with the idea of locking people in steel cages in order to have them learn penitence and to change their ways (hence the origin of the term "penitentiary").

Last week a friend told me about how one of his neighbors had just been returned to jail for numerous technical and traffic violations resulting from his seeming inability to understand and/or remember what is necessary to keep himself compliant with the law. In this case he had understood the clerk of the court to say he would be OK if he paid $50 a month on his past fines, and he apparently didn't understand that his license remained suspended in the meantime.

I'm certainly not defending his lifestyle patterns, even though he is one of a most generous, caring individuals one can find anywhere, innocent and naive to a fault. As a part of his naivete, he is terrible at keeping up with what he experiences as a complex, sticky web of laws and probation rules that keep getting him in trouble with the court. 

Meanwhile, you and I are left with the bill for his incarceration (well over $2000 a month), and are denied the benefit of his being a contributing and tax paying member of our community until he finally has his case heard over a month from now. 

Our criminal justice system all too frequently resorts to sentencing people to some arbitrarily determined amount of time in a correctional "hospital" such as a jail or prison. Invariably these facilities are understaffed and overcrowded and with few opportunities for remedial experiences that actually "correct", and often resulting in inmates losing their jobs due to having to be away from work for weeks on end while awaiting trial. Whether the offense is murder, burglary, embezzlement, the use of illegal drugs, or any number of failures to pay fines, court costs or child support, the eventual "remedy" tends to be the same, with varying amounts of time spent behind bars, idle and without any significant "treatment".

Imagine our chagrin if the following occurred in our healthcare system:

Tooth decay due to lack of good dental hygiene? Two days in an antiquated hospital.
Recurring headaches due to hangovers? More days in the same kind of hospital.
Digestive problems due to poor eating habits? Even more days in the hospital.
Lung cancer due to smoking? A life sentence in the hospital, etc.

You get my point. Any one-remedy-fits-all mindset would obviously result in a very expensive, overburdened and inefficient healthcare system. 

We can create a criminal justice system that is far superior to that, based on best practices proven to help offenders return to their communities in the shortest time possible as rehabilitated, productive citizens.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

There Is Only One Truth

Vulcan Arenal from the plaza in La Fortuna in Costa Rica
Every new denomination or offshoot of one seems to believe they have the truth all figured out. So does that mean there are many different "truths", or is there only one?

I once heard Bishop Martin Lehman say he believed there was only one ultimate truth, but that none of us has the ability to fully perceive it, define it, to see it all as it truly is in this life. He compares it to our inability to accurately describe the make-up of a mountain in the far distance toward which we are moving. The closer we get to this beautiful "mountain" representing our sacred texts, the life and teachings of Jesus and of all of our spiritual ancestors, the more details we may comprehend, but we will never see it as it really is until we finally arrive. And even then, it would require an eternity of exploration to truly know all there is to know about something so majestic and vast as God's ultimate truth.

Our human tendency is to think that as soon as we receive some new revelation of it based on our coming around some next bend in our journey, that we have somehow arrived. So we tend to halt our journey, codify the insight we've gained and build institutions and write creeds to perpetrate it. Like the disciples who had an epiphany of a transfigured Jesus, we want to build three tabernacles to celebrate our latest insight.

In light of this metaphor, I'm fascinated by the photo I took recently while visiting in Costa Rica. I didn't take it with this in mind, but see it as a reminder that not only can our pursuit of earthly possessions (nice cars, for example) get in the way of our journey toward the "mountain" we seek, but the institution of the church itself can sometimes block our progress, rather than it being a wayside inn and a source of encouragement and much needed direction on our way toward truth.

Early Anabaptists tended to write occasionally updated "confessions of faith" rather than "creeds" meant to define the faith for all time.  Yet their Mennonite and other spiritual descendants have become as prone as other Christian groups to divide and subdivide over differing understandings of it.

How much better to be humble and realistic about how little we fully know, and to recognize that in this life we can only "know in part and prophesy in part" and "see through a glass darkly"? How much better to acknowledge that it will not be until the next life that we will finally see "face to face" and "know as we are known"?

Interestingly, these phrases come from the so-called "love chapter" in the New Testament, one that that tells us that greatest "truth" of all is the knowledge and practice of a love that is never boastful or proud, but is always about being forbearing and patiently persevering in all of our relationships with others.

The chapter ends with the words, "Now abide faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love."

That's the kind of truth I most want to remember.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


"Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there." Leviticus 25:10

• Probation and Parole cost per case was $1,373
• Per capita cost of housing inmates was $27,928, up 1.7% from FY2014
• Commissary Earned From Offender Telephone System was $3,527,238
• Per Capita Medical Expenditures was $5,749
• Inmate Medical Co-payment Revenue $616,250 or $2,370 per with work day.
• Food cost was $24,513,599 but is now $23,150,140 which is $1,363,459 less. This $2.10 per day for staff and inmates.
• Direct Inmate Cost was $175,206,817, with $978,295,255 was non-inmate cost. Total appropriations were $1,153,502,072. 
• As of April 30, 2015, there were 4,348 parole eligible inmates in Virginia and 33,336 inmates subject to the post-1994 no-parole law.
† Currently, of the 4,348 parole eligible offenders serving one or more life sentences, 1,200 will die while in prison only because they committed a sexual and/or violent offense. Not because they have not changed, are not sorry for their crimes or because they misbehaved while incarcerated.
• Bureau of Justice Statistics state that Sex Offenders are less likely to re-offend than Non Sex Offenders. Just 5.3% of all sex offenders - and even smaller 3.3% of child molesters - were rearrested for a sex crime within three years of being released, the Report found.

As of November 2015 VDOC prison population was 30,290 offenders. June 30, 1993 VDOC prison population was 17,013. That was a 78% or 13,277 population increase in twenty-two years. That is at least 600 new Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS) offenders being incarcerated per year.

* JAMYCHEAL MITCHELL, a mentally ill 24-year-old, was arrested in April 2015 for stealing about $5 worth of snacks - a Snickers bar, a 2-liter Mountain Dew soda and a Zebra cake - from a 7-Eleven. He was jailed on a $3,000 bond. Unable to make bail and adjudicated incompetent to stand trial, Mitchell was ordered to the care of "qualified staff" at Eastern State Hospital. He was never transferred to the hospital, however, because no beds were available. On August 19, 2015, Mitchell was found without a pulse in a feces and urine contaminated cell at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. He had lost nearly 40 pounds since his arrest and one of his legs was swollen to an "elephant alike" size. Despite the overwhelming evidence of neglect, Mitchell's death was ruled to have resulted from "natural causes."
Source: Prison Legal News February 2016, Vol. 27 No. 2

♦ Notes from Virginia CURE 28th Annual Meeting - November 14, 2015
• Harold Clarke, Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections spoke of the challenges facing the DOC. One big problem is the sheer numbers of prisoners and the lack of resources.
There are also attitudes that must be overcome when trying to help people change.

Statistics reveal that 66% of Female prisoners and 24% of Male prisoners suffer from mental illness.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Some Potholes On The Road To Paradise

    Along the Costa Rican Continental Divide
Last Wednesday I left on the first leg of a long awaited journey to see my aging brother Sanford, 85, and his wonderful wife Martha, in beautiful and balmy northern Costa Rica. They moved there in 1968, raised all ten of their children there and were having a family reunion with each of the ten present, an event to which I was invited to share some family stories and to talk about our younger sister and husband's untimely deaths in December. Sanford had been unable to attend their memorial service.

My brother Sanford's home

My original plan had been to depart for the Roanoke airport early on Thursday to catch my 8:30 am American flight to San Jose (via Charlotte, where our son Brad was scheduled to meet me from Pittsburgh). Then just days before I learned that my sister Lovina's condition was worsening following a recent stroke, which had me debating whether I should even go. After some conversations with my wife and other family members, I decided to leave the afternoon before and spend the evening by Lovina's bed at their home in rural Campbell County, just south of Lynchburg, and then leave for Roanoke early the next morning.

A Setback on I-64

Just before getting to the Fishersville exit on the interstate my left front tire went royally flat. I knew the tread on the front tires of my little pickup was low, but after having the tires checked the day before I decided to go ahead with plans to take the Nissan anyway, against my good wife's advice, so she could have our car to use while I was gone. I also wanted to listen to a tape recorded interview I had done with my father back in 1984 that I wanted to share excerpts of with my brother (our car doesn't have a tape deck).

Bad news: I had never changed a tire on my 1996 pickup, and even finding a way to get the  spare from under the truck looked like a daunting task. Besides, I felt an urgent need to get to my sister's place.

Good news: Only minutes after pulling off the highway and dialing #77 (the police emergency hotline), I saw one of their Safety Service trucks, lights flashing, in my rear view mirror. It had just stopped a couple of hundred yards behind me to tag a motorcycle that was stranded because it had run out of gas.

What are the odds of such a thing happening, I marveled? In all of my interstate travels, I don't remember even seeing such a vehicle, much less needing help from one, so I was already prepared to wait forever for one to come to my aid. But in a very short time this angel visitor in disguise had me on my way to nearby Eavers Tire Service on Tinkling Springs Road where I had some new tires installed just before their closing time. Another great example of what I call "Mercy's Law".

And had I not decided to go see my dying sister Wednesday and left at 4:30 am Thursday instead for Roanoke, I may have had my flat along I-81 at a time when I could not been able to get the help I needed in time to make my flight.

Sad News and Sweet Consolation

After landing near the capitol city in early afternoon, we were greeted by my nephew Philip and escorted through busy traffic and mountainous roads for a two-hour drive across the country's Continental Divide and through its "cloud forest" (a high altitude rain forest-like area with abundant moisture brought in from the Atlantic) and down the other side to the tiny village of La Merced and my brother's home.

We enjoyed a near perfect evening, and took time for a memorable stop at a rustic roadside restaurant, plus another one by one of the many waterfalls in the area, all of which added to the feeling that we were in an earthly paradise, one in which temperatures are almost always somewhere between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sadly, among my brother's first words when we arrived at 7 pm were, "We just got word that Lovina passed away at 4 this afternoon."

Bittersweet emotions run deep at a time like this, with grief at her parting mixed with joy at reuniting with family members. Plus my realizing that with our youngest sister and now our three oldest ones gone, there were only three of us brothers and two sisters left. I was ever so glad I had been able to spend time at Lovina's bedside the night before to tell her how much I loved her and to experience my prayerful goodbye.

A Four-Day Taste of Promised Land

Yoder family "choir" at the reunion
On Friday and Saturday we spent precious time together reminiscing, singing and celebrating with Sanford and Martha's children, five from the states and five from Central America, and with many of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All the meals and many of the activities were planned and prepared by my grand-nieces and grand-nephews.

And did I mention singing? The community center where we met rang with laughter and song, wonderful a cappella music in heavenly four-part harmony, all a sacred taste of the life to come.

Sunday proved to be more of the same, with a morning worship service in one of the ten indigenous churches my brother and some of his ordained sons helped establish, and one in which one of the native pastors spoke. A fellow pastor interpreted for a couple of us.

Arenal Lake and Volcano
On our last full day some of us accompanied Sanford and Martha west to Arenal, near where they lived when they first arrived in the country in 1968, a location where a nearby volcano erupted soon after they were settled. That traumatic event, along with the building of a huge lake for producing hydroelectric power that flooded much of their land, led them to leave what has since become a thriving tourist area, and to move to the Pital region to the east.

Home Again

I brought home with me a taste of an earthly paradise, memories of a haven for exotic birds and other wildlife and a heaven of fellowship with some of the people closest to my heart.

I felt I could have settled down at such a place forever, and my faith boldly claims that some day we will, enjoying a new and unpolluted heavens and an earth restored to its Creator's perfection. And one in which wolf will lie down with lamb and none will study war any more.

I know there may still be plenty of potholes on the way, not unlike those encountered in the last five miles of our journey to La Merced, with one of the roughest, rockiest rides imaginable. But it's all a part of the journey.

Our son Brad sang the following words from the New Testament letter to the Philippians as a kind of benediction on one of our last nights together in Costa Rica:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. 
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 
Then you will experience God’s peace, 
which exceeds anything we can understand. 
God's peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 (New Living Translation)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Three Really Bad Nearby Neighborhoods

Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center, Verona, Virginia

Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail

Middle River Regional Jail, Verona, Virginia

Researchers who study violence and other antisocial behaviors find they are far more prevalent in neighborhoods in which the following conditions exist:

1)      Feelings of shame and low self worth. Wherever individuals feel looked down on and disrespected, their anger and resentment tend to increase bad behaviors.

2)      A sense of isolation. Individuals who live in neighborhoods where they feel cut off from mainstream society and unable to participate as equals are more likely to use violent and otherwise unacceptable means of achieving their ends.

3)      Exposure to violent behavior. Individuals with bad role models tend to engage in the violent and criminal behaviors they see demonstrated by adults and other peers around them.

4)      Lack of economic opportunity. When individuals lack access to gainful employment they are more likely to resort to illegal means of meeting their needs.

So what do we do with offenders from such communities? Instead of making them accountable to work hard and do whatever is necessary to make things right with their victims (think restorative justice), we confine even non-violent ones to steel cages surrounded by razor wire and force them to spend months and years in the most crime-ridden and crowded "neighborhoods" imaginable.

Friday, March 11, 2016

An "Impossibly Beautiful Day"

Lake Arenal and Vulcan Arenal in Costa Rica (photo by Brad)
Our four-year-old grandson, waking up to an unusually mild and sunny morning at his home near Rochester, described Wednesday as an "impossibly beautiful day".

It was a perfect way of expressing my own feelings about the day, one in which I safely arrived home (at 1 a.m.!) to be reunited with my beloved Alma Jean after a memorable five-day excursion to Costa Rica to spend time with my aging brother and family.

Then last evening we felt "impossibly blessed" by being given the 2016 Harriet Tubman award at the Lucy Simms Community Center here in Harrisonburg. Harriet Tubman has always been someone I've greatly admired, a brave woman who helped hundreds of slaves find freedom by means of the "underground railroad" that led to their "promised land" to the north.

Pastor Stan Maclin, president of the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center (photo courtesy of Daniel Lin, DN-R)

Sincere thanks to all of you who came to wish us well. We experienced the time together as an over-the-top, more-than-we-deserved experience of love and affirmation from our wonderful community friends and associates.

As always, we owe an impossible debt of gratitude to God, our church family and to all of our spiritual "grand-cestors" who have have inspired us, and who have led the procession of saints and sojourners toward a new heaven and a new earth.

An "impossibly beautiful day" for sure.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Media Fast, A Family Feast

With Sanford and Martha (photo by Brad)
My son Brad and I just returned from visiting my oldest brother Sanford and his good wife Martha in Costa Rica on the occasion of their family reunion at Pital de San Carlos. It was a privilege to have been invited to schedule this trip to coincide with all ten of their children and spouses being together, five of them also from the US and five from other locations in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

I'm so glad to be back safely with Alma Jean, who couldn't be with me (due to a combination of factors, including her not being able to get a passport in time), but she urged me to take in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be with my brother and his entire family.

Each of the three men in our family is an ordained minister, and Sanford and Martha moved to Costa Rica with their young family in the late 60's as a part of a church planting effort which has since resulted in the establishment of a dozen indigenous Anabaptist congregations and a growing publishing effort producing Spanish literature for people all over Central and South America.

I have always greatly admired my brothers, and was worried about Sanford's health when he experienced a serious heart condition several years ago. Our younger adopted sister perishing in a fire in December added to my urgency in wanting to go spend some time with Sanford and Martha, who were unable to attend the memorial service.

Then my dear oldest sister Lovina died Thursday at 4 pm after a series of strokes. I got to spend some priceless time with her Wednesday evening and then early Thursday morning before catching my Roanoke flight to Charlotte and to San Jose, but am so sad about not being able to have been at her memorial service Sunday.

Meanwhile, five unforgettable days with loved ones and without all of the stresses of work, constant news and other media distractions--and combined with a slower paced life in beautiful rural Costa Rica--felt like a taste of paradise.

More later!
Sanford and Martha and their ten children (from youngest to oldest) at their reunion in Costa Rica Saturday

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Humanly-Defined Or Heavenly-Inspired Church Unity?

link to source
I read with great interest Richard Showalter's "The Unity Jesus Meant" in the February 15, 2016 issue of the Mennonite World Review. 

He writes:

"Though organizational union on a broad scale may indeed be a worthy end, we search in vain for New Testament instructions about how to achieve or maintain it. Rather, the focus is on our union with God, our oneness with Christ and the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. In this context, we are called to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” until we “grow up into Christ” (Eph. 4:3, 15).
Sometimes the maintenance of this unity in the Trinity may have to do with our efforts to create or maintain organizational unions. But that’s clearly not primary..."

While I find the article, along with all of Showalter's good writing, well worth reading and pondering, does a focus on a deeper-than-organizational unity mean we are free to separate into groups that will no longer celebrate the Lord's Supper with each other on a regular basis? Or who are no longer able or willing to work with each other organizationally in our educational, missional and/or publishing efforts? In other words, does it free us to form ever more factions in an already splintered and divided body of Christ?

I agree that Christ never gave any special directions about maintaining "organizational unity". But that is because he never even considered any alternative to having his followers remaining forever together, simply because that represented his Father's will. 

There were many times when Jesus could have determined that the dissension among the Twelve could be best resolved by forming separate groups. 

Imagine him saying, "OK, some of you, cluster around Peter, James and John. We'll call them the 'Inner Circle' movement. And the rest of you, why not align yourself with Nathaniel, Simon and Thomas, and call yourselves the "New Zealot" movement? I will retain joint custody of both parts of the kingdom family, and will divide my visitation time equally between the two.

By today's reasoning, that might be considered better than having disciples constantly be at variance with each other over disputable and unresolvable differences. 

But apparently Jesus didn't see it that way. Rather, he taught his disciples to pray for the will of his Father "be done on earth as it is in heaven". It should be obvious to all of us that in heaven there could be no such thing as separate communion tables, segregated water-of-life drinking fountains or divided congregations and choirs. 

Diversity, yes. Four-part, eight-part, multiple-part harmony in the choir, yes. Surely the kind of preview of heaven we are to portray here on earth is one made up of many tribes, multiple nationalities, and every race and shade of color imaginable. 

But our undivided, common union, based on our having one Lord, one faith, one baptism--and one God and Father over all--can never be allowed to divide us.

Sadly, we already are, of course, and all the King's horsemen and all the King's maids can't seem to be able to put our fragmented Humpty-Dumpty-body back together again, at least not in this life. 

But we can at least begin to reverse all our bruising and Babel-building efforts rather than continuing to move in the direction of ever more splintering. Especially since the apostle Paul attributes this Corinthian kind of divisiveness to carnality, pure and simple. 

Let's repent of it, and proclaim Jesus alone as head of his church, a covenant people built on one foundation, and give up our efforts to reshape it in our own image.

Yes and yes--for heaven's sake.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

For Dear Lovina, The 'Last Mile Of The Way'?

Sister Lovina and Ernest, with son Delvin, photo by family
Just a month ago my oldest sister Lovina, 89, was still actively helping care for her bedfast and beloved Ernest, 90, both living at home in rural Campbell County and surrounded by family. They have been each other's beloveds for 68 years.

A week ago Lovina experienced a series of strokes that began to seriously limit her mobility. In the past few days her condition has only deteriorated.

Youngest son Delvin wrote these words on our family Google group last night:

Momma and Daddy look sweet lying side by side in their matching hospital beds; Mom, frail and fading under her blanket, Daddy, still solid and strong in spirit. He tried mightily to see her with his compromised vision but finally resigned himself just to holding her hand. 
His evening prayer in part was,"Father help us to be faithful the last mile of the way...."
Holy ground.

Having just lost my youngest sister in December, and having previously said farewell to two others, this comes hard. Lovina was the diminutive but indomitable spirit that brought so much light and life into our family. She loved her husband and their seven children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren--all living nearby except for son Howard, who died in 2000. She had a passion for gardening and for learning all she could about local history and researching her family's past.

To say she will be missed is a huge understatement. Lovina's absence will leave a huge hole in the family soul.

Pray for us.