Sunday, December 31, 2017

On The Seventh Day Of Christmas: Everyday Communion

Everything we eat gives up its life for us.
In our busy-ness, it's easy to make times of preparing and partaking of daily bread just another of the necessary tasks on our pressing to-do lists. We become focused on simply making the process as efficient as possible. 

But the older I get the more I see family and other meal times as having the potential for becoming much more than that. They can be daily rituals that are vital to nurturing our bonds with each other along with our sense of reverence for life--and for its Creator and Provider.

All of the meat, the vegetables and the fruit of the earth our Creator has provided for our tables has literally given up its life to make our existence possible, thus making meals a kind of eucharistic experience. Think of God being present with words like "this represents my body, my blood, my life" given for all of you. Think of all the people around the world who have contributed to our having this abundance to enjoy.

So as we partake of our fair share of the world's "daily bread", we need to be aware that we never eat this manna alone, but at one table with all God's children, all receiving God's everyday grace.

I know that sounds a little lofty, but I do believe that all communal meals can invite conversations that deepen the ties that bind us all together. And that all of our around-the-table times can nourish not only our bodies, but soul and spirit as well. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

On The Sixth Day Of Christmas: Parenting Like Jesus

How would Jesus parent?
I doubt if there's an older parent alive who doesn't long for years gone by when they were celebrating life with their lively and growing family. Missing all of that, and regretting missed opportunities, is enough to make your heart hurt.

None of us knows all we might do differently if we could try this all over again. For myself, I might try to focus more on some things I wrote a couple of years ago, as follows:

Since Jesus had no biological children, we seldom think of him as a model for parenting. But he was a fully engaged mentor to twelve young followers with whom he practiced the kind of assertive toughness and soft tenderness we could all learn from, and showed great concern for the wellbeing of the young.

1) Jesus gives high priority to children and condemns in the strongest terms any kind of disrespect or harm done to an innocent child. 

2) Jesus affirms the teachableness, defenselessness and dependency of children as examples we can learn from.  

3) Jesus teaches his followers faith and values by word and everyday example, explains things by using simple illustrations, devotes himself to meeting his followers' needs, shows them honor and respect, prays for them, answers their questions, engages them in ongoing conversations, charges them with challenging work assignments, and is assertive in correcting them as needed. 

4) Jesus corrects by word and by reproof, without the use of any form of physical force. He nowhere advocates the use of a rod or any kind of physical violence toward anyone of any age.

5) Jesus’s teaching about dealing with someone who commits a wrong (Matthew 18:15-17) serves as a model for correcting behavior of people of all ages:

     a) Appeal to the offending person respectfully and in private.

     b) Address the issue (the fault) rather than attack or put down the person.

     c) Appeal for change rather than simply administer punishment.

     d) Take another with you if necessary to urge a change of heart and behavior.

     e) As the ultimate sanction, remove the offender from fellowship with the rest of the family (a form of time out!) until the misbehavior is acknowledged and corrected.

Much love, some tears and many prayers.

Friday, December 29, 2017

On The Fifth Day Of Christmas: Harnessing Power

Some good rules for children of all ages.
"Of course there is the anger where the love is strong.
It spills like gasoline.
...but it's a power we can draw upon
if it fuels the right machine."
                                           - David Wilcox

I grew up feeling very mistrustful of power, but learning lots of self-effacing humility and gelassenheit from my loving and praying parents. As an adult I became convinced that "all power corrupts", associating it with being domineering and controlling.

In our role as parents, we often discourage early signs of assertiveness, fearing it might lead to children becoming too aggressive or overbearing. "Tame it down," we say. "Be nice. Hold it back. Hold it in."

There's wisdom in that, but while there are of course many unacceptable expressions of power, there are also many necessary forms of it we need to be fearless and fully-functioning followers of Jesus. Sometimes we aren't aroused enough at things that anger the heart of God, and often we express power in unacceptable ways.

As parents we are to "bring up" and to "raise". So rather than disempowering those in our care, our job is to empower and encourage with every confidence needed to gain and maintain the stature and strength to see ourselves as equal to every other adult on the planet--no more and no less.

To feel under-empowered is to invite either depression or aggression. To experience Christ-like power is to be able to express an agape love that is tough as Teflon and yet capable of being genuinely tender with those weak or hurting.

Here Jesus is our model. He is able to demonstrate a no-nonsense authority that commands respect, and rids the temple courts of unjust money-changers, but also exercise the kind of soft power that holds infants in his arms and gently raises the afflicted and lost to new life. Even when he strategically chooses to endure evil rather than inflicting it, and even when spit upon and mocked, he is never defeated but always remains unbowed and unbent.

In short, it's not a matter of power over, but power with, power used for the primary purpose of empowering others, especially the children in our care but also spouses and others with whom we share a truly equal relationship.

In this context even anger, as in Wilcox's words, can be "a power we can draw upon". Spilled in an uncontrolled or vindictive way it can do irreparable damage, but used in well-engineered "right machine" it can be a great force for good, authoritative rather than authoritarian, respectfully self-giving rather than self-serving.

Much love, many prayers.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

On The Fourth Day Of Christmas: Prizing Creation

Sheer amazement can happen anywhere.
This is the fourth in a series of posts for each of  the twelve days of Christmas, adapted from some emails I've sent to our three adult children:

One of the things I'm always delighted to see in our grandchildren is a strong respect and love for the God-created out-of-doors. I well remember our first grandchild, for example, at five, telling me, while digging around in the soil behind our house, that she might not go to college, but wanted to be a "nature helper", sharing with others her love of all things growing, living and breathing around her. 

Children are born with this kind of wonder and curiosity, but also learn from their parents and other role models to delight in all of creation--from the breathtaking vastness of space to the intricate design of the smallest visible creature or plant in their backyard. In the interest of this kind of exploration, what if each family member could be assigned a couple of square yards of space outdoors to explore as though it were the size of a vast expanse of earth being discovered by human beings for the first time, and then have each report to the rest of the family the soil, the minerals and plants, animals and insects that live and thrive there? Amazement can be found everywhere, a gift far better than mere amusement.

One ingredient missing in some children's lives is the lack of access to natural places, but that is not the real problem in most of our homes and neighborhoods. Another missing piece may be the lack of sufficient boredom, if you will, the kind that helps motivate children to find "something to do" when they are surrounded by far too many screen-based options for their entertainment. Maybe a bit of boredom, with the burden of remedying it being more on the child than on the adult, isn't at all a bad thing!

Much love, many blessings.

Two other favorite posts on this topic:

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On The Third Day Of Christmas: Embracing Mortality

This is the third in a series of posts  for each of  the twelve days of Christmas, adapted from some emails I've sent to our three adult children--beloved uncles, aunts and parents of our six grandchildren:

I often wonder about the impact of the death of friends, family members, and even pets, on children. I well remember as a child having a mortal dread of the moment when one of my parents would lift me to see the body of a deceased person in a coffin at a viewing. 

I don't remember my children sharing that fear. Maybe I conditioned them to seeing bodies in caskets by occasionally taking them on pastoral rounds that included a stop at Grandles Funeral Home, thus introducing them to this sad but inevitable part of life, for better or worse.

My prayer for all this week is that each of us, young or old or in between, can embrace and celebrate all of life from beginning to end, from birth to what we believe is a second birthing, one that delivers us from the womb of this world to the new and forever life beyond.

When the time comes to enter the new world, may we all "lay ourselves down to sleep" with the satisfaction that we've accomplished our mission, one of helping, for God's sake, to make this present world a little a better place for our having lived in it.

Much love, many prayers.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

On The Second Day Of Christmas: Praying Shalom

This is the second in a series of posts  for each of  the twelve days of Christmas. I'll be adapting these from some emails I've sent to our three adult children--beloved uncles, aunts and parents of our six grandchildren:

My father led us in the mandatory reading of a scripture and a long (I thought) prayer every morning after breakfast. I know that's a hard practice to maintain with the kinds of schedules we all have, leaving us with primarily our bedtime stories and prayers. I frankly don't remember getting much out of these morning gatherings at the time, but what did make a lasting impression was my dad's commitment to his family's spiritual nurturing, demonstrated his priorities when it came to our being prayed for and read to every day, no matter how urgent the farm work was. 

In hindsight I wish we would have put more thought into own meal time rituals that reflected and reinforced our faith and values. For example, hymn #16 in Sing The Story keeps singing itself in my mind:

Peace before us
Peace behind us
Peace under our feet (or I prefer, Peace the path for our feet)
Peace within us
Peace over us
Let all around us be peace

Other words, like "love", "Christ", "Praise", "Light", "Joy" can be substituted for the word peace. The word chosen for a given meal might be associated with a "virtue of the week" a family may be emphasizing, another idea I've been pondering.

I remember with great fondness the bedtime singing and the reading of Bible and other stories as we tucked our younger children to bed each night. Precious memories indeed.

Here's a YouTube link to a slowish, meditative rendition of the song 

Much love, many blessings.

Monday, December 25, 2017

On The First Day Of Christmas: Caroling Peace

Our carols celebrate God's peace 'on earth as it is in heaven.'
For two millennia Christians have celebrated the advent of Peace on earth and goodwill to men, women, children, neighbors and strangers alike with carols proclaiming an end to war-making.

Yet only a small fraction of professed Christians ever question the path to utter destruction and carnage preparations for war are taking us. In a nation in which millions claim allegiance to the Prince of Peace, we are seeing ever more headlines such as the following:

"9,000-11,000 Civilians Killed in Retaking Mosul, at Least a Third by Allied Bombs"

"President Promotes Largest Ever $700 Billion Defense Budget"

"Commitment to Negotiation Limited--America's New Strategy is 'Peace Through Strength'"

"US Prepared to Utterly Destroy North Korea, Threatening Nuclear Holocaust"

By contrast, here are some direct references to peace on earth in our Christmas hymns and carols:

O come, O come, Immanuel  -  anonymous, 6th and 7th century (v.1-4), Henry Sloane Coffin, 1916 (during WW I) v.5-6

     "Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease, fill the whole with heaven's peace"

Comfort, comfort O my people  -  Johannes Olearius, 1671

     "Speak unto Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them,
     Tell of all the sins I cover, and that warfare now is over"

To us a child of hope is born  -  Isaac Watts, 1719

     "His name shall be the Prince of Peace...
     Justice shall guard his throne above, and peace abound below"

It came upon a midnight clear  - Edmund H. Sears, 1849

     "Peace on the earth, goodwill to all from heavens all gracious king...
     ...Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long...
     ...warring humankind hears not the tidings which they bring,
     O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing."

    "For lo the days are hastening on by prophet bards foretold
     when with the everlasting years comes round the age of gold
     when peace shall over all the earth ts ancient splendors fling
     and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing."

Joy to the world  -  Isaac Watts, 1719

     "He rules the world with truth and grace, 
     and makes the nations prove 
     the glories of his righteousness 
     and wonders of his love."

Hark! the herald angels sing  -  Charles Wesley, 1739

     "Peace on the earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled…
    Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace..."

O holy night  -  Adolphe Adam, 1874

    "Truly He taught us to love one another;
      His law is love and His gospel is peace.
     Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
     And in His name all oppression shall cease."

I heard the bells on Christmas day - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1863 (during the Civil War)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;

"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Bless'd be the God of Israel 
-  Michael Perry, 1973

     " guide the feet of pilgrims along the path of peace."

Friday, December 22, 2017

New International Embassy In Jerusalem, 33 AD

I'm sure an Acts 2 kind of "consulate" in Jerusalem would be something Jesus 
would fully support.
Nearly 2000 years ago an outpost of Jesus followers, new members of what was to become a worldwide Kingdom of God Movement, was established in the capital city of Jerusalem. Its first membership was made up of a cosmopolitan group from all over the then known world, gathered to celebrate the annual harvest feast of Pentecost:

"Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
    Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
    Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!"

"That day about three thousand took him (Peter) at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers...

"They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved."

- quotations from the Message, Acts 2

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Guestpost: If Christ Were Born In Harrisonburg

Adam Shank wrote and shared this when he was worship leader at Shalom Mennonite a year ago. Adam was born in Harrisonburg and he and his wife spent 3 years serving with MCC in Nicaragua. He is the Home-School Liaison at Smithland Elementary School, which puts him in contact with parents from diverse backgrounds.

Christ was born today in Harrisonburg

His light can be seen shining from the 
mansions of Harmony Heights,
To the apartments on Norwood.

Jose and Maria were picking apples one county over,
But Maria was too pregnant for the trip home,
When harvest ended in October.

Now doubled up with Maria’s cousin Elizabeth,
She delivers unto us,
The world’s greatest gift.

A wail and a cry comes out of the dark
Of lot 103, 
Spotswood trailer park.

The cry is a herald, calling for unity,
And organically it happens,
As people bring gifts for the new family.

From Holly Court the Eritreans offer loads of injera bread
While the Iraqis bring pita
In case they prefer that instead.

Baklava from Kurdish neighbors on Mosby had everyone gawkin’
Which paired perfectly with the cafecito
Brought by SalvadoreƱos living on Hawkins.

Mennonites from Park View plugged in their crock pots
And with the little coordination
Kept Mexican sopa de res piping hot.

Then there was the group of African Americans living over by Simms,
Who lifted up their glad voices 
And sang gospels and spiritual hymns.

The Puerto Ricans from Harris Gardens not to be outdone,
Brought heaps of arroz con gandules,
Enough for everyone.

Chinese, Russian, Somali, people from the Valley,
The crowd grew so large,
We couldn’t keep our tally.

As the gifts were given the good news we began to tell
Of the Savior born to La Maria
Living behind the Taco Bell.

With God dwelling among us we all began to see
That light of Christ, that image of God
In every person, in our own humanity.

In that moment you could feel change was just around the bend,
For this new babe would truly help us 
Make America Great Again.

Monday, December 18, 2017

No Batteries Necessary

Today’s profit-driven toy industry has gone high tech, producing more and more gadgets and games for children that require less and less of their imagination and creativity.

But lots of batteries.

Check out the glossy fliers promoting Christmas toys this time of year. Sadly, what is often missing are things like ordinary building blocks, erector sets, art supplies, hand puppets, finger paints, modeling clay or simply a selection of good books.

Also missing in many children’s play areas are simple every day materials one would find at a good pre-school and day care program, things like old typewriters, used kitchen utensils, cardboard boxes and sand trays. Or tables wth nature collections—bird nests, rocks, gourds and freshly gathered leaves.

If play is the child’s work, as someone has said, we would do well to simply give our children lots of good materials to work with and turn them loose. And when we’re looking for gifts for them this Christmas, we should choose those that can be used for building and creating rather than offering them play stations and video games for practicing destruction. And let’s give them baby dolls for pretending to be nurturing parents rather than Barbie and Ken dolls for playing the roles of pampered teens with impossible figures.

A group called Alternatives, which publishes an annual newsletter entitled “Whose Birthday is it Anyway?” ( suggests we give up using Christmas catalogues as a guide for our shopping, and stop going to the local mall to get ideas for Christmas gifts. Instead, we start with a modest budget we can live with, then make our choices of what to buy (or make) based on considering the following:

Does this gift reflect our faith and values?

Does the material from which the gift is made reflect a careful use of the environment?

Does this gift encourage activity rather than passivity; self-reliance rather than dependence?

Does this gift stimulate spiritual, mental or physical growth?

Who profits from the purchase of this gift?

Jesus, whose birthday we are celebrating, once asked his followers the question, “If your children ask for bread, or for a fish, will you give them a stone? Or a scorpion?”

In the same way, when a daughter or son complains, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do?” let’s offer them a ball, some boxes, some paper and other art supplies and challenge them to see what they can come up with.

No batteries necessary.

This column appears in the last issue of Valley Living magazine.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Are US Evangelicals Becoming A Laughingstock?

"It was the clearly hand of God that gave us Mr. Trump
as our president."  - Franklin Graham
When it comes to matters of faith, I'm wary of labels. I'd rather be known as simply a follower of Jesus.

Yet many of my beliefs and values are aligned with those held by millions of evangelicals around the world. For example, I am a part of a faith community that takes Jesus and the Bible seriously, and celebrates the possibility of radical redemption and transformation of people regardless of their past. And I am even more pro-life than most evangelicals, not favoring abortion but also refusing to support war or capital punishment.

But in the wake of a growing alignment of evangelicalism with immoral and insane levels of defense spending, with policies that are unwelcoming to foreigners and strangers and with a tendency to defend politicians with a history of sexual misconduct, I must draw a line.

So just call me a follower of Jesus. Please.

Conservative columnist George Will, in a piece published in our local paper today, states that "values voters" and "evangelicals" (Will's quotation marks) "have some repenting to do before trying to claim their role as arbiters of Republican and American righteousness." He adds, "We have, alas, not heard the last from them, but the first reaction to their 'witness' should be resounding guffaws."

Guffaws? Ouch. Are evangelicals, and Christians in general, becoming a laughingstock to unbelievers, and especially to young adults who are already leaving the church in droves?

Meanwhile, we should have all cringed when Franklin Graham, in one of his 2015 Facebook posts, proposed an outright ban on all Muslims entering the US,  “We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized―and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad.”  

Only a few months later, then-candidate Donald Trump endorsed that very position and made it one of his campaign promises. Later, in the months prior to the 2016 election, Graham held evangelical "prayer rallies" in every state capital in support of the Republican ticket.

I'm guessing that Jesus, clearly not a member of either party, had other engagements.

For more on evangelicalism and its sometimes strange bedfellows:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Guestpost: "Let's Not Execute The Mentally Ill" 12/11/17 DNR Column By Russ Leinbach

Twenty-three inmates were executed in the US in 2017.
“Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die” (Proverbs 24:11-12).

Although our criminal justice system is supposed to protect the rights of the vulnerable, serious injustices exist and we are often ignorant of them. The execution of people with severe mental illness is one of these injustices that needs to be brought to light. We need to extend mercy to people with severe mental illness. Join me in urging our lawmakers to prohibit the use of the death penalty for people with severe mental illness.

Thankfully, our nation has come to rule out some of the barbaric uses of capital punishment; abolishing its use against people with intellectual disability and against children. Despite this, Virginia is executing persons with severe mental illnesses. William Morva, diagnosed with delusional disorder, was executed in July. Morva committed his crimes in the grips of paranoid delusions, including the belief that President George W. Bush was conspiring with local law enforcement to have him killed. Despite this, jurors at his trial were only told that Morva had “odd beliefs” about the world.

Severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and the disorder that afflicted Morva, are often characterized by hallucinations and delusions that prevent people from distinguishing what is real and what isn’t. These characteristics make the severely mentlally ill often unable to control or understand the consequences of their behavior. These symptoms are the result of a diagnosable medical condition, not personal choice.

As a result, defendants with severe mental illness are certainly more susceptible to exploitation in our justice system, including a higher risk of erroneous convictions. First, they are more likely to give false confessions than those who don’t have a mental illness. Defendants in criminal proceedings are often put under great psychological pressure, especially when police interrogations aim to elicit a confession. When one’s thoughts and emotions are already severely impaired due to symptoms of mental illness, that pressure can lead defendants to confess to crimes they haven’t committed.

While Morva needed to be held accountable for his serious crimes, our legal system did not provide him the compassion and fair treatment he deserved. Legislation would change that. The proposed exemption would not morally or legally excuse anyone, as it applies only to the sentencing phase of capital cases. Defendants eligible for this exemption could still be found guilty and given harsh punishment, including life without the possibility of parole.

With Proverbs in mind, I call on lawmakers in Virginia to pass a severe mental illness exemption to the death penalty. Mercy and Justice demands that our legislators act now to rescue those who are unfairly sentenced to die.

Russ Leinbach lives in Harrisonburg.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Let The Car Customer Beware

Is this car safe to be on the highway?
Because of a safety recall, I had our 2012 vehicle's air bag replaced free of charge at a local dealer's Friday. While there they conveniently did a "safety check" on the car and reported that its front brake pads had only 1 mm. of wear left and should be replaced (in the interest of our safety, of course) even though I had just had the car inspected a week before. This repair would cost me a mere $250.95, they said, which included replacing and machining the rotors. 

 The car's battery terminal was also corroded, they informed me, and should be cleaned and replaced, for another $104.52, with an extra $34.63 for "battery service". Also, the cabin air filter needed to be replaced (supposedly for our health's sake) at $47.50, as well as the engine's air filter, which would be another $36.99. Along with all that, there would be "shop charges" totaling $35.

 I politely declined, suspecting I would be better off getting a second opinion from my friend Chuck Cave, a trusted mechanic who owns Chandi's Service Center along Rt. 42 near our house. Needless to say, this proved to be a very wise move. 

That same day Chuck changed the oil ($49.99 with the best synthetic oil) and the cabin air filter ($25.46), plus cleaned the battery terminal ($10) and checked the brake pads, all for a grand total of $94.71, including labor. He assured me the brake pads were actually fine, and had at least 4 mm. of wear left.

Total savings? Over $600, with an oil change thrown in for good measure, something that in itself would have cost me over $80 at the dealer. 

Caveat emptor. 

By the way, while Chuck is working on your car, or any time, you can enjoy some great home cooked food prepared by his good wife Sandi at their little Cafe in the same building, right across the highway from the Dairy Queen in Harmony Square (formerly Sonny's Service Center). 

Their phone number is 209-0088.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Yes, Some Sins ARE Worse Than Others

Jesus clearly didn't see all sins as the same.
I sometimes hear people say, "All sin is sin in God's eyes, and none is any better or any worse than another."

But is that really true?

There are in fact numerous texts in the Bible that speak of a "greater sin" (John 19:11) or about "weightier matters of the law" (Matthew 23:23). In the Torah, for example, causing a woman to have a miscarriage doesn't carry the same weight as murdering her already born child (Exodus 21:22-23).

I think we would all agree that it wouldn't make any sense for a parent to respond in the same way to a child who eats a cookie without permission as they would to his or her cheating on a test, stealing from a neighbor or doing bodily harm to someone in a fit of rage.

And what kind of legal system could be considered just if a jaywalker were treated in the same way as a serial killer?

So while all sins, by definition, are inexcusable and indefensible, some are clearly far more serious in their consequences than others. For example, even though entertaining lustful thoughts about having sex with someone other than your spouse is to already commit adultery with that person in our hearts (therefore we don't get a pass just because we haven't actually committed the deed) but to the other person and to their loved ones there is a huge, huge difference. The same with the irreversible harm done by killing an enemy rather than simply hating one. For the perpetrator, the sins may be equal, hating or killing, but clearly not for the victim or victims.

But our standing with God isn't really based on the number of times we commit any of any catalogue of greater or lesser sins, but to what extent we live out the greatest of all commandments, to love God with a passion, and to love every neighbor with compassion. 

See also

Thursday, December 7, 2017

SOS Fundraising--Questions And Reflections

A recent conversation at the Broadway Subway with MCC's
Jim Wiegner, Bruce Campbell-Janza and Luke Schrock-Hurst.
I was invited to meet with some Mennonite Central Committee representatives on Monday to discuss the SOS (Sharing Our Surplus) campaign associated with this year's Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale.

SOS was about having a table set up at the Relief Sale for the sole purpose of accepting cash, check and credit card donations. It was not intended to reduce people's auction, food and other purchases, but to offer an additional way to generate funds for much needed refugee aid, especially since the majority of the total number of attendees each year do not to take part in the auction.

The group invited me to write up some reflections on this first time effort, so here are some thoughts:

1. It takes a whole village to implement even a simple idea like this one. No one person could have done this.

2. The Relief Sale Board deserves appreciation for their willingness to support something they were most willing to give a try. "If this could raise $10,000", one member said, "I would be surprised, but very happy."

3. Some local folks are extraordinarily generous. Of the over $35,000 raised at the SOS table this year, $5000 came from one couple alone. There was also a $2500 donation, and five persons contributed $1000 each. Another individual contributed $750, and astounding 18 people wrote checks of $500 each. Some of the rest of the donations were in the hundreds of dollars each, along with lots of smaller gifts.

4. Sadly, many others were obviously far less generous. Even $35,000 equals only the cost of about 3 1/2 glazed donuts for each of the 10,000 or so attendees at the sale.

5. It's difficult to say how much impact, if any, numerous blog posts and articles, Facebook postings and radio spots, church bulletin inserts and church announcements--or something like the refugee tent set up to show the size of a shelter a family might have to live in for decades--really had on the outcome. Maybe compassion for the destitute can't be effectively advertised or "sold" to people already numbed by all of the suffering in the world.

6. Many people did affirm the SOS effort and said they hoped this would become a regular part of future relief sales.

7. Finally, we still haven't been told exactly how much was raised by this effort. At least of this date we still don't have official numbers, either for the relief sale as a whole or for this small part of it.

But maybe numbers don't really matter. Just so at least a few people in desperate straits around the world are offered some help and hope.

For more links on this effort:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Waiting--And Waiting--An Advent Behind Bars

For the incarcerated, waiting is especially hard.
"Christ doesn’t come for those who are considering how to enter into a spiritual season of waiting. Christ comes for those who already wait."  - Alan Sherouse

During Advent season there is always at least one lectionary text about John the Baptist. In the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, this lone voice heralds the coming of a day of grace and of judgment ushered in by the birth of the Messiah.

John's hard-hitting message results in his becoming a first century convict who finds himself on death row in a miserable Judean jail. While waiting in his cramped cell he struggles with doubts about whether Jesus, his Galilean cousin, is really the deliverer the world was waiting for. During John's short lifetime, he doesn't get to see the overthrow of the Roman empire and the promised release of captives living under Rome's oppression.

Two thousand years later, many captives in prisons all over the nation are still waiting. Hoping and waiting.

"Harold" (not his real name) is in his late 60's, and has been incarcerated at a Virginia prison for nearly three decades. He has a commendable record of behavior in prison and has tried to do whatever he can to better himself. Recently he was turned down, once again, for the geriatric release for which he is eligible. This in spite of the fact that he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has been offered a place to live in a nearby city where he can get decent medical care as he faces his last years.

"Joseph" is a Rockingham County inmate in his 20's who was moved to the Middle River Regional Jail due to lack of space at our local facility. He continues to wait for some of the meds his doctor has prescribed for him for multiple mental health and physical needs. Raised in a single parent home, he was prescribed Adderall as a child due to an ADHD diagnosis, then at his 18th birthday was abruptly deprived of the medication to which his body had become accustomed, simply because he was no longer covered by Medicaid. In the distress of his withdrawal he began using street drugs to take the edge off his depression and anxiety. He clearly recognizes his need for help for his drug addiction, but gets no treatment while in jail. And while there he has been forced to spend most of his time in solitary confinement because he is considered a risk for suicide.

"Junior", in his 70's and legally blind since childhood, was recently transferred to the Deerfield Correctional Center, Virginia's de facto "nursing home" for aging and infirm inmates. He is a prolific poet and the author of a book about the abuse he experienced as a child and young adult. Junior is a diligent worker and has earned an excellent behavior record during his three decades behind bars. But in spite of his being eligible for both geriatric release and release as a deserving "old law" inmate, he was recently again turned down by an unforgiving parole board after having been denied release multiple previous years.

Meanwhile at our local jail dozens of family members and friends sign in very weekend to wait their turn to see a loved one for a precious half-hour visit. Many come from many miles away to have their brief conversation, always through a glass window in a concrete and steel wall. On the other side is their friend or family member in handcuffs and in an orange jump suit, something that can be traumatic for a child visiting their mom or dad to see. Family members also wait in vain to have someone heed their plea for an end to a $1 per day "rental" fee for every day their loved one is in jail ($3 if they have to be moved to Middle River Regional Jail). Until or unless that is paid, their inmate cannot make phone calls and cannot buy stamps, coffee, snacks, sugar, salt, mayo, ketchup or mustard packets to go with their meals, or make the obligatory $10 copay if they have to see a doctor or nurse. And there is a $4 fee for every deposit in the kiosk to add to an account.

All of these neighbors wait for the promise of Advent, and for the birth of "liberty throughout the land".
"All creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed... in hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."  - Romans 8:19-21 (NIV)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

I Have Set Before You Vita (Life) and Cide (Death)

Good planets are really hard to find.
Which of the following do you think the compassionate Creator of the universe and of all of its inhabitants would consider the most unthinkably heinous of all evils?

Note: Not all of the terms below can be found in your dictionary.

Spermicide: using a substance to kill sperm to avoid pregnancy

Ovicide: preventing implantation of a fertilized ovum to avoid pregnancy

Embrycide: aborting an embryo in the early stages of pregnancy

Feticide: aborting a fetus in a later stage of pregnancy

Infanticide: killing a newborn, or not giving a baby the means to live, at the end of a pregnancy

Suicide: taking ones own life

Homicide: taking another person's life

Militiacide: training and arming young men and women to become warriors capable of killing whoever their nation considers its enemies, and if necessary sacrificing their own lives in the process

Genocide: systematically bombing, starving or otherwise destroying whole populations of people

Atomicide: creating and using nuclear weapons capable of destroying all civilization as we know it

Terracide: contributing to the destruction of all life systems on earth through the exploitation of its resources and the pollution of its land, atmosphere and oceans

P.S. Here's a link to one of my pro-life blogs:

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Hooked On The Wrong End Of The Food Chain

Good health starts here...
...and ends here.

Somewhere in our pursuit of progress and of the good life we have lost our connection with the earth that sustains us. Even in our own agriculturally productive Shenandoah Valley, once known as the "bread basket of the Confederacy", we have become almost totally food dependent. If it weren't for an abundance of highly processed and packaged food products trucked here from all over the world, most of us would starve.

According to one source, in the years between 1950 and 1970 the number of farms in the US, and the number of people who relied on them for their living, dropped by half before the trend began leveling off. And thanks to more mechanization and specialized factory farming, the size of farms has doubled.

At the same time, due to the relatively low cost of all of our food "imports", fewer and fewer non-farm families bother with having backyard chickens or otherwise raising and preserving any of their own food. While this may make us feel more independent at one level, we have actually become ever more dependent on other people and systems than ever for our survival.

Meanwhile, we have become a nation that now spends more time and money eating out than we do in the grocery aisle or the farmer's market--and in preparing our own meals at home. And unfortunately, much of our eating out is at fast food outlets, resulting in our becoming increasingly addicted to a diet high in calories, fat, salt and sugar. And as we all know, that puts us at greater risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems and other serious threats to our health. 

We would all be better off doing more hoeing and less mowing, becoming producers of more of what we need to live on and less reliant on being ever more passive consumers.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Christmas Open House Too Good To Miss!

Everyone in the whole world is invited to the 2017 Gemeinschaft Home Christmas Reception and Open House this Sunday afternoon, December 3, at 1423 Mt. Clinton Pike.

Open house will be from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Feel free to bring your questions about the program to members of the staff, residents, and/or Board members.

Meanwhile there will be hot drinks and freshly baked Christmas cookies and treats from the Gemeinschaft kitchen. Residents and staff will also be available for brief tours of the house.

You can RSVP at 540-434-1690 or, or you can just show up.

In either case you can show your support of Gemeinschaft by making a year-end donation and/or a loan toward the $33,000 "Raise the Roof" project. We're almost half way toward our goal for this project!

So please come, and invite your friends and neighbors to join you.

Here are links to the Gemeinschaft website and Facebook pages: 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Our Trickle-Down Congregational Economics

Are the Lazarus's at our table only getting our leftovers?
A Proposed Congregational Mission Statement:
To be good news for the poor, to heal the broken, to proclaim release for prisoners, to restore sight to the blind, to advocate for the oppressed, and to celebrate God's Jubilee for all.

If we were to truly represent Jesus' Inside-Out Kingdom, how would that be reflected in our congregational budgets?

Church budgets are moral documents, a reflection of our actual values. Follow the money, we are told.

This is not to say that alleviating the needs of the homeless and destitute is the only thing Jesus' followers are about. We also need to help support, as needed, those in teaching, pastoral care and other church ministries. And if we own a building, we need to maintain it and pay the utility bills.

But how can our budgets better reflect Jesus' primary mission as announced in Luke 4?

Here are some current budget percentages typical of Mennonite churches in our community:

40% Staff salaries and benefits
20% Utilities, maintenance, repairs, supplies, capital costs
15% Tuition grants for those attending church schools
15% Support for missions and other church related institutions and organizations
10% Support for relief agencies and charitable organizations

Of course not even the 10% (?) we send to agencies to which we outsource our food and relief aid all goes to the poor. There are administrative and other personnel involved who are paid well and who are well cared for.

But some of our giving does eventually reach the truly needy, for which I am sure they are truly grateful.

And to be clear, my concern is not just about developing alternative budget pie charts, but about our being able to vastly enlarge the charitable pie itself. Like most Americans, we carefully calculate our giving so it doesn't interfere with our goal of amassing more wealth every year of our working life. Can followers of Jesus really find any support in the gospels for that kind of entitlement?

According to a 2005 study, U.S. Mennonites, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, don't even give a tithe of their incomes to charity, much less sell their surplus wealth, downsize their homes, or adjust their spending to be more like that of their sisters and brothers in the rest of the world. Were we to do so, most of our congregations, in the spirit of Pentecost, could easily triple the size of their church budgets without experiencing any real hardship.

Plus it would be a powerful witness to a skeptical world, and a source of great joy to everyone concerned.