Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Sobering $3.50 History Lesson

I actually felt a little hesitant about picking up a book about Adolph Hitler at the Green Valley Book Fair Saturday. But I've always been intrigued by the man who was able to persuade so many of his people to follow him into the dark abyss of hyper-nationalism and anti-semitism.

At a mere $3.50 (Green Valley's bargain price), the highly readable "The Life and Times of Adolph Hitler", an award- winning work by James Giblin, proved to be a great help in my better understanding Hitler, the times in which he lived, and the masses who became so devoted to their Fuhrer.

Just to be clear, I'm not posting this because of the results of the recent election. There are no perfect parallels in human history, and it's always a mistake to identify any political figure as being "just like" another. But we should also be careful to avoid the "nothing like" fallacy. And I was as interested in learning more about the mindset of the people influenced by Hitler as I was about the man himself.

In Giblin's closing chapter on openly Neo-Nazi groups who still revere Hitler, he addresses the question of whether another charismatic figure like Hitler could rise to power today:

"Much would depend on the political and economic conditions prevailing at the time. If a country experienced a sudden economic and spiritual collapse, as Germany did following World War I, and as the entire world did during the Great Depression of the 1930's, then a call might go out for a savior--a leader who could restore the country's pride and fiscal health and inspire new hope for the future in its despairing citizens."

Throughout my reading I was impressed by the role Joseph Goebbel's political propaganda campaign played in Hitler's success. During election season, the two of them traveled tirelessly throughout Germany, with a major speech scheduled for each day, and sometimes more. Radio broadcasts and ads were used extensively, and 50,000 propaganda discs were mailed to people who owned record players (p. 64).

Key business firms hurting from the economic recession also played a key role, with CEO's of major corporations like Krupp, Siemens, Mercedes Benz and I.G. Farben (chemical and pharmaceutical conglomerate, including Bayer) throwing their support behind Hitler (p, 69).

But most disturbing was the support of the churches (including many in my own Mennonite denomination, though that wasn't referenced in the book), in spite of Hitler's clearly unChrist-like rhetoric. In July of 1933, the Vatican signed an concordat with Germany in which it agreed not to interfere with German politics, and the German church ordered its bishops to swear a pledge of allegiance to the regime which included the words, "In the performance of my spiritual office and in my solicitude for the welfare and the interests of the German Reich, I will endeavor to avoid all detrimental acts that might endanger it." In other words, they pledged to remain silent no matter how many judges Hitler arbitrarily replaced, no matter if he withdrew from the League of Nations or declared war on nearby nations, and no matter what kind of atrocities were committed against Jews, Gypsies and dissidents considered enemies of the state (p. 80)

Not everything about Adolph Hitler was evil. In his personal life, he refrained from the use of alcohol or tobacco, was a vegetarian, loved art and music and expressed affectionate toward children and animals. He was clearly a power-driven individual with delusions of grandeur, and may have evolved into a psychopath, but he was also a human being as worthy of love as any creation of God.

I recommend this book as a reminder to everyone, in every society and in every community of faith, to learn whatever lessons we need from this tragic era of world history.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

From Inside The 'Big House', A Christmas Appeal To The White House

Wikipedia photo
I just received the following from a friend in one of our Virginia state prisons. He would be blessed by your forwarding a copy to the White House, the Governor, members of Congress, state legislators and others, or to copy and paste any part of the following you want to use as you express your own concerns via letter or email.

Dear President Barack Obama:

I wish you and yours a happy holiday season, celebrating One who came to "bring good news to the poor," "proclaim release to the captives," and to "let the oppressed go free."

I am writing on behalf of the many prisoners throughout the US who have been imprisoned for decades, have successfully completed mandated treatment, education and vocational programs while incarcerated, but are continuously denied parole release since the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which brought about the Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS) Laws which has caused state jails and prisons to burst at their seams.

Currently states are targeting individuals who have committed sexually based or violent crimes and are locking them up and throwing away the key. Where is their second chance? What good are treatment, education, job and vocational programs if inmates are not being released to put what they've learned to good use?

President Obama, please consider calling a meeting with every governor within the United States and offer them assistance in establishing re-entry programs, halfway houses and job training centers for ex-inmates. Also, provide a substantial grant to states to place all prisoners under one sentencing structure. Currently Virginia has at least three. This is the only way to treat parole eligible prisoners justly and provide them another opportunity in society.

The Federal Government should also provide a grant to create a Microsoft Surface Tablet Computer that prisoners could use to educate themselves, with Microsoft Office pre-installed. Also, a grant to provide federal funding to provide a server internal internet system for educational services for inmates.

Please stress to state governors that they should have their Department of Corrections treat, educate, provide job and vocational training that would help facilitate release from incarceration at the earliest and safest time possible.

Also, please advise corrections officials that mentally ill prisoners should not be housed in jails and prisons but in certified mental health facilities for treatment.

Thank you, President Obama, for your time, dedication and service.

Signed on behalf of millions of men and women behind bars this holiday season

Friday, November 25, 2016

DNR: Mixed Messages On Climate Science

"And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it...  And I beheld, and heard an angel... saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabitants of the earth..."
Revelation 8:12-13 (KJV)

The editorial page of our local paper, the Daily News-Record, appears to have a generally optimistic view of the earth's future, and takes a consistently skeptical stance regarding any climate warming resulting from human activity. Yet it regularly publishes Associated Press articles that show otherwise.

The headline of an AP article in the November 23 edition, for example, was "Study Predicts More Heat Records In Future". It begins with, "The United States is already setting twice as many daily heat records as cold records, but a new study predicts that will get a lot more attention as man-made climate change worsens." The piece ends with, "In life we get alarmed when we have a fever... We are setting Earth on course for high fever events to be quite common."

It appears the paper's policy is to print such articles as verifiable and valid on the one hand, but on the other hand to deny their trustworthiness and truthfulness in its editorials.

There are always plenty of non-scientists, editors included, who feel they have the necessary credentials to dismiss organizations like the World Meteorological Organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Natural Resources Defense Council, NASA, the EPA, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the National Geographic Society, the Union of Concerned Scientists and countless other groups as being just plain wrong in warning us to reverse the rate at which we are spewing carbon emissions into the atmosphere.  The so-called deniers, self-proclaimed "experts" who trust science in almost every other area of their lives, accuse climate scientists of either being grossly ignorant or willfully devious, willing to risk their professional reputations by conspiring with others around the globe to promote faulty science, apparently to gain the funding they want to promote their shameful research.

But does that really make sense?

The fact is that scientists tend to be a fiercely competitive and independent lot, all too willing to find errors in their colleague's research. In addition, there is an equally competitive press that will do anything possible to expose fraud in a way that gains attention to themselves and might result in a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism.

Having said all that, I do believe that ultimately God's "got the whole world in his hands". Yet I also take seriously the first and extremely important mandate we are given in scripture, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing upon the earth."

This means that we who are stewards of the planet are to care for it and for all life on it as our Creator intended.

Surely that means doing everything possible to avoid harming the fragile atmosphere on which all life depends.

Here's a link to another piece on the subject:

And there's this in today's New York Times:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Turkey Processing Purgatory

Michael Snell-Feikema photo
Not to ruin your Thanksgiving meal, but we should be concerned about the industry profiting from our annual feast and for the hard working folks processing our turkeys for us. 

Turkeys are now the fifth ranking agricultural product produced in Virginia, right behind broilers, cattle, soybeans and milk. They account for some $326,000,000 in receipts annually, of which poultry workers earn only 2%.

Yesterday I attended a community meeting celebrating the hardworking men and women, many of them immigrants, who are employed in processing plants here in the "turkey capitol of the world".

Working long shifts with sharp knives, and in damp and cold conditions, several workers spoke of the high incidence of injuries they have suffered, including cuts, carpel tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion disorders. They also reported a serious lack of medical treatment and/or compensation for work-related injuries.

The following is from local advocate Michael Snell-Feikema:

"The line is sped up during holiday season, with workers made to process up to 50 turkeys per minute. A Central American woman gets her hand slammed by a 30-pound turkey speeding down the line. Her hand loses feeling; the temperature on the floor is very cold. The poultry company pays for her physical therapy for a time, then tells her she has to assume responsibility for the injury. The company nurse even asks her, “Are you sure you got hit by a turkey?” They end up putting the injured woman on “light duty” (pulling feathers, etc.) that she has to perform with her uninjured hand. She’s transferred to a position involving cutting poultry parts with a pair of scissors held over her head, which results in extreme tendinitis. (Bear in mind, she’s performing the duty with one hand because her other hand is still injured.) She no longer has use of either hand. They send her home for 5 months with zero pay, zero workmen’s comp. She’s back to work now, but her hands are still injured.

"From another worker: After 8 years of employment with a particular company, she dislocates her shoulder trying to complete “500 plates in 20 minutes.” The company nurse advises her to go to a specific doctor. The woman goes, then receives a bill for $2,700. The woman is surprised because she assumed the doctor worked for the poultry company which would pick up the cost. The nurse tells her, “No, you actually went to a personal doctor.” The woman says, “You told me to go to this doctor.” The nurse says, “No, your injury probably didn’t happen at the plant. It happened elsewhere: at home, the shopping mall, etc.” The nurse then asks, “Do you want to continue your job?” The woman says, “Yes.” The nurse says, “Then sign this piece of paper.” The injured woman signs the paper. The nurse asks, “Do you know what you just signed? You just signed an agreement stating you did not get injured on the job.” The company didn’t even give her a copy of the document."

Snell-Feikema adds, "These two personal stories are a just a glimpse into a broader pattern of abuse that is pervasive in the poultry plants across the United States and in the Shenandoah Valley. Many studies have been done by various human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Recently, Oxfam America has launched a national campaign in support of the human rights of poultry workers and published an extraordinary report titled: Lives on the Line: The Human Cost of Cheap Chicken."

Here is a link to a WMRA report on local conditions:

Here are OSHA safety rules governing poultry processing:

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Friend's All Saints Day 'Sermon In Verse'

Pastor Phil Kniss
I found Phil Kniss's November 6, 2016, message in poetry powerful and profound, and asked his permission to post it here. 

Each year the names of all of the deceased members of the Park View Mennonite Church are read on All Saints Day, over 200 of them on this Sunday. 

Here is his message in verse:

Putting Powers in Their Place
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149:1-9

Daniel 7, Psalm 149.
Who would have guessed
This awkward pairing of text
For All Saints Day sacred reading?

Juxtaposed, I suppose, by
Learned lectionary selectors
Thinking apocalyptic scenes of Babylon
And Belshazzar and beasts in the sea

Would inspire preachers like me.
They did not know I was Mennonite.
In psalms, the 149th is no 23rd.
And that sixth verse–could there be worse?

I quote, “Let the high praises of God
Be in their throats and 
two-edged swords in their hands.“
Must I preach this? 

“Sing praise to God and
Slay the enemy”? or 
“Praise the Lord and
Pass the ammunition”?

Do I tell these in Park View’s pews,
First sing, ‘Gloria
In excelsis Deo.’ Then
Execute vengeance on the nations.

Is there no other way to see this decree?
Are worship and war in such unholy alliance?
So let us see what the seer Daniel saw,
Lying in bed, visions in his head?

Did he dream a scheme to bump off
Belshazzar, for crimes against humanity?
No, the seer saw the Most High God
Put powers in their place.

Four winds of heaven, chapter seven,
Stirred up four beasts,
Four cold-blooded kings
Rising from the sea.

Yet take heart, have no fear,
to the holy ones of God Most High
God gives the kingdom in the end.
The Kingdom without end. Forever, amen.

Those kings get their due.
And we’re off the hook. But look, today,
The nations still wield awful powers.
Even ours, we deny our Ordainer’s aims.

Two days hence, November Eight,
Ballots cast will designate
Who will be the next appointed king.
Can hardly wait, but here’s the thing:

Regardless who we make our king—
Clinton, Trump, or Bruce Springsteen—
We must admit all kings that we esteem,
Emerge from earth, as in the seer’s dream.

Like us, they yield to force of gravity,
Pulled down by earth and our depravity.
Their might will melt before the kneeling throngs,
Someday, sometime…  but we can hurry it along.

Take heed to Psalm one-forty-nine.
You heard me right. The praise of God
In mouth, and sword in hand. No, I don’t infer
We stoop to use the weapons they prefer.

Listen carefully, I say
We do the deed another way.
We just refuse to bow to claims put forth
By any king that rises from the earth.

And by that brazen act of radical refusal
We rob our kings of what they’re used to.
Without our acquiescence, they’ve lost the essence
Of what they need to rule us.

Without a trace of violence, we drain the lifeblood
From powers of evil. The kings are bound
With fetters, every bit as much and more,
As if we’d taken them by force.

More awesome, more shocking than bombs
That shock and awe, and leave wicked ones
And innocent alike, to die or writhe in pain.
The way to gain the upper hand, is just to name

Whose power we choose to use. 
I suggest that we consider the Most High God,
Whose kingdom matters more than any other,
And will last long past the term of our next president.

And as for All Saints Day, you get it now?
We who, past or present, bow to God Almighty,
Place our loyalty, identity with One who reigns
On High. And everyone who’s gone before—

Viola, Martha, Lois, Robert, Ruth,
Anita, Alice, Anna Kathryn—gone, but not
So far removed as not to claim them as our own.
We’re all part of one offbeat community

That worries kings in power,
Since we don’t bow to those who claim a place
reserved for God Most High, who named us saints.
Alive or dead, all kneel at God’s high throne together.

Now I’m glad those strange and awful verses
Were put together in just that way. It forces
Preachers such as me to see a deeper truth.
This sleeping text has blessed me, and I pray you.

So let us now commence to give allegiance
to the only One whose Reign will last.
Glory to God in the Highest.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

A Glorious Inheritance
Ephesians 1:11-23

Addressed to Asian churches, Ephesus especially,
It’s just a simple letter, nothing more, from Paul.
“Dear saints,” he starts the missive, “Grace to you
and peace.” Of course, that’s how he starts them all.

But reading chapter one again I’m struck full face
In every place how much Paul treats the church
As one whole entity. Community. Humanity in
Unity of faith. It never seems to dawn on him

When speaking of theology, to talk of God
And us in private terminology. In Greek,
The second person pronoun—“you”—
Shows up in plural only. Never singly.

Not “you,” but if you’ll pardon me, it’s “ya’ll.”
I can say that. We are southern, after all.
But not to take it lightly, grammar here is
Crucial to our understanding rightly, that the

Good news of salvation never was a private gift
For me and you and you and you and you.
God marked us all, by Spirit sealed (in v. thirteen)
God’s own people set apart (that’s fourteen)

To be redeemed, a new community
Of saints, recipients of glorious inheritance.
A whole society that, marching to a different beat,
Is bound to meet resistance, and generate some heat

Out in the world where thrones compete.
Which makes the church, it stands to reason,
Guilty of committing treason against the
Powers of this world, such as they are.

So do not tremble, Saints of Ephesus,
And Antioch, and Philippi, and north Park View.
Your saintly church is overseen by Christ its Head,
Seated on a throne that overshadows every other.

At God’s right hand, our Lord is in position
Above all rulers, powers, and dominions.
Resurrection power put Christ there, but
God will share, with us, the new community.

So saints of old, who’ve gone before us,
And all saints here, let’s join the chorus,
Glory to God in the Highest.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Reverse of a Curse
Luke 6:20-31

Jesus gave a sermon once, that I, the seasoned
Preacher that I am, doubt I would have the
Nerve to give. Or, truth be told, would want to.
He gave it not on mountaintop, but level place.

This sermon on the plain, is plainly ill-advised,
You see. It makes no sense to gather ’round you
Massive crowds enthusiastic, then to get bombastic,
Cursing them who came to hear you. Make them fear you.

“Woe to you who have enough! And curses, you who
Laugh with stomachs full! A curse to everyone of you
Who neighbors think the best of, and assume are blessed of
God!” I think it odd, to preach to folks in such a way.

And then to say, to those who lack in every way, the things
That everyone agrees you need—some food, some cash,
Some happiness, respect, and honor—to say to those
Who stand far off, beyond the borders of the crowd,

Eyes averted, heads just tilted slightly, toes that
Dig into the dirt, who know where they belong—
To say to those—“You over there, you’re blessed.
Yes you! Beyond the rest, you’re blessed if you are

Poor and hungry, weeping, or excluded,
Hated or defamed because of me.
Rejoice and leap though now you creep
Along not knowing that God holds you dear.”

The lowest ones who loiter, linger at the edge,
Long lived thinking they’ve been cursed, and
Destined to be losers, now discover that they
Won the only trophy worth its weight in love.

A simple sermon on a plain, reversed a curse,
Worse than any curse against the Cubbies,
This curse held them in a death grip, nothing they
Could see to free them. Until the day that Jesus said,

“Just don’t look at it that way. Be glad you
Don’t have what they do. Their stuff owns them,
So pity them, the self-incarcerated. You are free, indeed,
To let God do his thing and give you what you really need.”

Now today, this All Saints text, in context with the rest,
Doesn’t tell us what to do, but where to be. It shows us
Where to set our hope and home. Situated in that same,
Trouble-making, power-breaking, slightly offbeat . . . community

Of saints both past and present, who together chose another
Road to greatness. So let us once again confess and sing,
Glory to God in the Highest.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

    —Phil Kniss, November 6, 2016

You can hear Park View Mennonite Church services (where our son and family attend) on WEMC, 91.7 FM, at 9:30 am each Sunday morning, or check out their podcasts of recent messages at

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Tale Of Two Propagandists?

Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945)
Each era of history is in some ways unique, and none of its chief players are identical. Let's start with that. 

But when Steve Bannon of Breitbart News, known for his incendiary rhetoric and frequent disregard for the truth, was named as chief strategist for the new president-elect, I couldn't help but ask whether this in any way resembles a development in Germany in the thirties.

Consider the following bit of history

"In 1933, the year Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) became chancellor of Germany, he named Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), his trusted friend and colleague, to the key post of minister for public enlightenment and propaganda. In this capacity, Goebbels was charged with presenting Hitler to the public in the most favorable light, regulating the content of all German media and fomenting anti-Semitism."

Stephen Bannon
Fast forwarding 86 years, history could record the following:

"In 2016, the year Donald Trump became president-elect of the United States, he named Steve Bannon, his trusted friend and colleague, as his chief strategist. In this capacity, Bannon was charged with presenting the Trump agenda to the public in the most effective way possible, influencing the content of US media and fomenting anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant attitudes."

Of course its too early to judge the effect Mr. Bannon will have on the President or how he will attempt to influence the media and the public to support the new administration's plans to "Make America Great Again". But if the tenor of "Breitbart News" is any indication, we might witness a level of propagandist rhetoric never before seen coming out of the White House.

In all fairness, Mr. Bannon is no longer responsible for all of the content of Breitbart News, but here is a sample of some of the more misleading, totally unproven and/or inflammatory headlines found recently on the site and which have been circulated widely on social media:

Hillary Clinton Screaming Obscenities And Throwing Objects In Election Night Meltdown

Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew

There's No Hiring Bias Toward Women In Tech--They Just Suck At Interviews

Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage

Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy

The Solution to Online 'Harassment' Is Simple--Women Should Log Off

Trump 100% Vindicated--CBS Reports 'Swarms' On Rooftops Celebrating 9/11

Planned Parenthood's Body Count Under Cecile Richards Up To Half A Holocaust

"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."

- Menno Simons, 16th century Dutch reformer

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Wild, Wonderful, 'Almost Heaven' Drive

Each fall Alma Jean and I like to go on a fall foliage tour somewhere in the Valley area. Last year it included a tour of Skyline Drive from Front Royal to Highway 211.

Last Saturday we took a route far less traveled, a fifteen-mile stretch of winding mountain road that connects Lost River State Park to Moorefield, West Virginia. From there we went down Rt. 220 to Petersburg, where we enjoyed a good meal at Sue's Country Kitchen, followed by a visit to a former church member at Grant Memorial Hospital.

West Virginia calls itself "wild and wonderful" and "almost heaven", fitting descriptions for the stretch of mountainous terrain we traveled over Saturday. Although the fall colors were slightly past their peak, we found both the scenery and the drive breathtaking, and the fall weather couldn't have been more perfect. For my wife, some of the "breathtaking" part also had to do with the lack of guardrails at points where it appeared they could have have been prudent.

Interestingly, on our return home we traveled east on West Virginia Senator Byrd's famed "Corridor", a stretch of interstate highway strangely leading to nowhere, and covering roughly the same terrain we had navigated going west to Moorefield. But the contrast couldn't have been greater between that four-lane wonder and our "road less taken".

An amazing difference between the two. You should try them both.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Urgent Call To Support Justice For Jens Soering

Jens Soering
"A life sentence is a hidden death sentence." 
- Pope Francis

I have been in frequent contact with German citizen Jens Soering since I was first introduced to him several years ago. Today he is in urgent need of our help.

Jens has been incarcerated since 1986 for a crime he insists he did not commit, and during this time has distinguished himself as a model inmate and a prize-winning author of nine books.

Now, over thirty years later, the chief investigator in his case, Chuck Reid, has gone on record stating he is convinced Jens is innocent, based on new evidence that became available this summer. And on November 5 an extensive documentary, "The Promise", premiered at the Virginia Film Festival, one which further strengthens the case for his exoneration.

A petition for pardon was filed in August and is currently awaiting response from Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. But so far it appears that the Governor is hesitant to act based on some of the controversy that has been associated with this highly publicized case.

Meanwhile a letter writing campaign has been launched, one that simply urges the Governor to carefully examine the new evidence and take an action before he leaves office. Those who write on his behalf are not expected to make a judgment regarding his guilt or innocence but to simply insist that his case gets a timely review by the current Governor.

I post a lot of blogs on criminal justice, and this is yet another of those about which I feel very deeply. Jens has no history of any kind of violence in his past, and deserves at the very least to be repatriated to his native Germany, something for which his government has repeatedly petitioned. Governor Kaine actually granted this request in the closing days of his administration, only to have the incoming Bob McDonnell, in an unprecedented move, revoke his action.

Please take time to familiarize yourself with Jens's story, using the links below, then send a letter to the Governor's office. Promptly.

While letters are best, here's a link to send an email to the Governor (check "Department of Public Safety" and ask for a response)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hook, Line And Sinker--How White Evangelicals Came To Support A Trumped-Up Nationalism

The consistent support of 81% of white evangelicals clearly gave Donald Trump the electoral college numbers he needed to win Tuesday's election. Never mind the fact that that many of Trump's policies, like those of most politicians, are diametrically opposed to the teachings of the gospel.

So how was he able to convince an overwhelming number of professed followers of Jesus to join his retro-revolutionary crusade?

1. The "Pro-Life/Anti-Abortion" Hook

In spite of Trump's past support of women's right to choose, evangelicals and others became convinced that a vote for Trump would reduce or eliminate the number of legal abortions performed in the US. On the other hand they were led to believe that a President Clinton would dramatically increase those numbers, and that she even favored "ripping babies out of mothers' wombs" through the ninth month of pregnancy.

Never mind the fact that this has never been Hillary's position. And never mind that legal abortion rates have been in steady decline under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and that even Roe v Wade excludes late term abortions except in the rarest and most extreme circumstances.

Such facts aside, saving babies always seemed to be the major reason cited by evangelicals for supporting the Trump ticket.

2. The "We've Got-To-Have-A-Completely-Conservative-Supreme-Court" Line

Evangelicals came to believe that a monolithic Supreme Court was necessary to make America right again. They failed to understand that regardless of the political philosophy of its seven justices, their decisions are always highly influenced by precedent, and that even its most conservative members, for better or worse, are unlikely to favor overturning rulings affecting existing civil rights, same sex marriage, abortion and similar issues already spoken to in previous Supreme Court rulings.

In addition, having justices who are ever more favorable to gun deregulation (a very odd issue for followers of a non-violent Jesus) somehow also came to be cited as a major concern for evangelicals.

3. The "Horrible-And-Utterly-Evil-Hillary" Sinker

Evangelical Trump supporters, like many others who favored him, came to demonize Hillary as the epitome of evil. It is of course true that as a life long professional politician, Clinton accumulated her full share of negative baggage in the form of multiple mistakes, missteps and misstatements.

So in spite of her having been been chosen as the most admired woman worldwide for a record-setting 20 consecutive years, and in spite of her having earned the majority of the popular vote, most Trump-inspired evangelicals found it impossible to see any redeemable quality in her.

As a result, all of the above appears to have made it possible for white evangelicals to swallow the right's hyper-nationalistic agenda "hook, line and sinker". History will judge the wisdom of the US going down that path, and God will judge whether followers of Jesus should have been supportive of a nation doing so.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Pete Mahoney, A Gentle And Just Peacemonger

A blessing: "Be anxious about nothing, but with prayers and entreaties, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God."                                   - The apostle Paul, to Jesus followers at Philippi, a colony of the Roman empire
Breakfast at Alice Springston's home (Chris Edwards photo)

To be sane in a mad time
is bad for the brain, worse 
for the heart. The world
is a holy vision,
had we clarity to see it..."
- Wendell Berry

Some twenty friends met for a farewell breakfast at Alice Springston's home this morning in honor of longtime local activist Pete Mahoney.

A member of the Xavier Catholic order, Pete came to Harrisonburg in the early eighties to serve as unit leader at Emmaus House, a home for post-college young adult community volunteers. It was here that he also hosted regular meetings of Choose Life, an anti-nuclear group that later became a local chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a group that still meets on the second Thursday of each month.

In the nineties Pete served as a part time staff member of Common Ground, a coalition of local groups involved in peace, justice and environmental issues, and more recently gave two years of his life in relief and development work in Haiti.

"Wherever there was a community event focusing on some good cause, Pete was always there," said one of his friends at the breakfast. Many others affirmed his gentle but persistent good work in helping to make Harrisonburg a more caring and welcoming community.

"Time and time again, I have been nudged out of my comfort zone in ways that have contributed to my growth," Pete told us, and reported that his moving to a retirement home for members of his order in Louisville next week was another example of such a step.

Pete, we will miss you. Our community is a better place because of you, and will never be the same without you.

The following piece by Wendell Berry was read at the end of this mornings gathering:

All our days are arrows; now at the turn
of life, half-fledged and knowledgeable, I face
the coming of the rest, their grief and pain
made accurate by their joy. So I will learn
the world. Full feathered, I must fly to an unknown

Pete's new address will be 1607 Poplar Level Road, Louisville, KY 40217.

P.S. The December 8 meeting of FOR will be at noon at the Trinity Presbyterian Church and will focus on how we can partner with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy in expanding healthcare in Virginia.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Personal Perspective At An Election Day Worship Service

Along with several members of other Harrisonburg congregations, I was invited to offer "200 words" at a community election day worship service last evening on our church's perspective on voting. There is, of course, no clear consensus on this issue among Virginia Conference Mennonites, but for what its worth, here is the text of my thoughts:

In 1742 my ancestor Christian Yoder, Jr., at age 16, emigrated from Switzerland to eastern Pennsylvania with his father, likely to avoid military service in the Swiss army. Thirty four years later, in 1776, he moved his own family, including their sons of draft age, to Somerset County near the Ohio border as the Continental army began conscripting young men to engage in a war of rebellion against the British king who had offered them asylum in the new world. 

Thus it shouldn't be surprising that many in my faith community haven’t fully felt at home whether in western Europe, eastern Pennsylvania or elsewhere, often experiencing the US less as their promised land and more as their temporary sojourn in Babylon. So as followers of Jesus and resident aliens, the issue of whether to vote, as in choosing the commander in chief of the armed forces, has often divided us. 

Yet scriptures admonish us to seek the shalom of whatever Babylon in which we find ourselves, grateful that this one is better than many. So some among us, as pilgrims and sojourners, warily cast their votes in the approximate direction of justice, meanwhile praying that all in positions of power around the world would work together to help make the world a little more hospitable to God's more important work, to proclaim good news to the poor, bring sight to the blind, to release captives and to announce the year of God's Jubilee.


For related posts check the following links:

Monday, November 7, 2016

Last Minute Exam For Christians Who Vote

Between 1890 and 1960 many states in the South imposed a literacy test for would be voters, effectively denying most African Americans the right to cast a ballot.

This was anything but a good idea, but I'm wondering whether followers of Jesus shouldn't brush up on some teachings in the Bible--and those of its faithful adherents--before they decide whether or how to vote.

Here's a test:

Show that you can recognize the positions of the following by matching the names below with their statements on the use of violence: 

a. Jesus (in his inaugural address)
b. The apostle Paul (in a letter to Christians in the capitol city of Rome)
c. The apostle Peter (in a letter to scattered churches in the Roman empire)
d. St. John Chrysostom (Homily XXXIII on Matthew's gospel)
e. Hillary Clinton (foreign policy speech)
f. Donald Trump (campaign speech)
g. The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu 
g. Barak Obama (foreign policy speech)

___ 1. "ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because of the oil that they took away, they have some in Syria, they have some in Iraq... I would just bomb those suckers, and that's right, I'd blow up the pipes, I'd blow up the refineries, I'd blow up ever single inch, there would be nothing left."  

___ 2. "At the end of the day, we still must be prepared to go after terrorists wherever they plot, using all the tools at our disposal, that includes targeted strikes by U.S. military aircraft and drones, with proper safeguards when there are any other viable options to deal with continuing imminent threats."

____ 3. “Altering the mentality of foes is far greater and more marvelous than killing them; the apostles were only twelve, while the whole world was filled with wolves. Let us then be ashamed, who do the contrary, who like wolves assault our enemies. For as long as we are sheep, we conquer, and even though ten thousand wolves lurk around us, we overcome and prevail. But if we become wolves we are defeated, for the Shepherd will then deprive us of his help, because he feeds sheep not wolves.”

____ 4. "As I outlined in my speech to the nation last weekend, our strategy is moving forward with a great sense of urgency on four fronts -- hunting down and taking out these terrorists; training and equipping Iraqi and Syrian forces to fight ISIL on the ground; stopping ISIL's operations by disrupting their recruiting, financing and propaganda; and, finally, persistent diplomacy to end the Syrian civil war so that everyone can focus on destroying ISIL."  

____ 5. “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike."

____ 6. "For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly."

____ 7. "Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, 'I will take revenge; I will pay them back,'  says the Lord. Instead, 'If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.' Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good."

____ 8.  “When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others."
“Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth.” 

Answers: 1. Donald Trump, 2: Hillary Clinton, 3. St. John Chrystosom, 4. Barak Obama, 5. Jesus (Matthew 5:43-46), 6. the apostle Peter (I Peter2:23-25), 7. the apostle Paul (Romans12:19-21), 8. Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Putting Christ Back Into Christians

Conservative Catholic columnist Michael Gerson, in a recent piece published in the Washington Post, wrote: 

"Evangelical leaders, motivated by political self-interest, are cozying up to a leader who has placed bigotry and malice at the center of American politics. They are defending the rights of their faith while dishonoring its essence. Genuine social influence will not come by putting Christ back into Christmas; it will come by putting Christ and his priorities back into more Christians." 

In an October 21 post on his blog, "Stuff That Needs To Said", John Pavlovitz expresses a similar concern, 

"For far too many people, being a Christian no longer means you need to be humble or forgiving. It no longer means you need a heart to serve or bring healing. It no longer requires compassion or mercy or benevolence. It no longer requires you to turn the other cheek or to love your enemies or to take the lowest place or to love your neighbor as yourself.  

"It no longer requires Jesus."

Pavlovitz goes on to describe "The Kind of Christian I Refuse to Be", the title of his piece:

I refuse to be a Christian who lives in fear of people who look or speak or worship differently than I do.

I refuse to be a Christian who believes that God blesses America more than God so loves the world.

I refuse to be a Christian who uses the Bible to perpetuate individual or systemic bigotry, racism, or sexism.

I refuse to be a Christian who treasures allegiance to a flag or a country or a political party, above emulating Jesus.

I refuse to be a Christian who is reluctant to call-out the words of hateful preachers, venomous politicians, and mean-spirited pew sitters, in the name of keeping Christian unity.

I refuse to be a Christian who tolerates a global Church where all people are not openly welcomed, fully celebrated, and equally cared for.

I refuse to be a Christian who speaks always with holy war rhetoric about an encroaching enemy horde that must be rallied against and defeated.

I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy with Grace.

I refuse to be a Christian who can’t see the image of God in people of every color, every religious tradition, every sexual orientation.

I refuse to be a Christian who demands that others believe what I believe or live as I live or profess what I profess.

I refuse to be a Christian who sees the world in a hopeless spiral downward and can only condemn it or withdraw from it.

I refuse to be a Christian devoid of the character of Jesus; his humility, his compassion, his smallness, his gentleness with people’s wounds, his attention to the poor and the forgotten and the marginalized, his intolerance for religious hypocrisy, his clear expression of the love of God.

I refuse to be a Christian unless it means I live as a person of hospitality, of healing, of redemption, of justice, of expectation-defying Grace, of counterintuitive love. These are non-negotiables.

Yes, it is much more difficult to say it these days than it has ever been, but I still do say it.

I am still a Christian—but I refuse to be one without Jesus.