Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Please Share: A Lenten Fast For The Nation's Healing

My friend Daryl Byler, director of EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, is proposing a fast--for a meal, a day, several days, or even longer--during the season of Lent beginning tomorrow, March 1, accompanied by writing letters of concern. Please help spread the word.

Healing Justice Fast

What? A 40-day water and juice fast, respectfully calling upon President Trump to work collaboratively with diverse political, business, educational and religious leaders for healing of the deep divisions and disparities in the United States.

Why? To be deeply centered at a time of national turmoil, recognizing the spiritual dimensions of these divisions and inequalities – the insidious influence of what the biblical writers describe as the “principalities and powers” (Eph. 3:10).

When? Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday (40 days)

Snapshot:  The recent presidential election laid bare the ugly fissures that are ripping the nation apart.  Far from our stated national vision “out of many, one” (E Pluribus Unum), we are rapidly losing the ability to see the humanity in those from a different political party, economic class, racial group, sexual orientation, or immigrant status than our own. Systemic injustices are rooted in a hierarchy of human value and civil discourse across differences has become a rare commodity.

Between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, as God enables, I plan to engage in a water and juice fast, each day sending an open letter to President Trump, calling on him to act collaboratively with other national leaders for healing justice.  The letters will be rooted in the Daily Office texts from President Trump’s Presbyterian faith tradition. 

While the divisions and disparities in the country existed long before President Trump took office, he bears unique responsibility in his very public role for setting a positive tone and leading by example. Still, all of us -- from the most progressive to the most conservative –- are responsible to take concrete steps to heal the national divisions and work for justice for all.

President Trump campaigned on the slogan “Make America Great Again!”  What would it look like to be a great nation?  The biblical prophets defined greatness as learning to act justly, love kindness and walk humbly.  Jesus spoke of greatness as learning to serve the needs of others --feeding the hungry (including our enemies), visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the stranger. 

Many other religious traditions share these same values.

My daily letters will be posted at   I invite others to join me in this time of prayer and fasting – for a meal, a day, several days or even longer – and to take practical steps, however large or small, toward healing justice.

-J. Daryl Byler      
26 February 2017

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Re-membering Our Life Stories
"How will our children know who they are if they don't know where they came from?" 

I remember once hearing a story on NPR of a someone using a table saw who accidentally cut off one of his fingers. The severed body part flew off into the corner of his shop among scraps of wood, sawdust and other debris. After he managed to stop the bleeding he and his family looked frantically for the missing member of his body so they could take it with them to the hospital to have it reattached.

Remembering is something like that. Sometimes an important part of us becomes lost, for some reason becomes dis-membered. Perhaps our parents or others have intentionally hidden some part of our family’s story from us, kept it a secret. Or maybe we’ve just plain forgotten certain things from failing to review parts of our story. Or maybe we have willfully cut off some painful part of our past we simply don’t want to deal with, or some relationship we no longer want to be a part of.

But cutting ourselves off from parts of our past can be like losing a body part, a member of ourselves. In re-membering we are re-attaching, e-connecting, so that healing and growth can take place.

I often recommend that my clients construct a genogram, a kind of ancestral chart that locates the key players in their ongoing family story. This becomes like a playlist of characters in their drama, men and women who have all in some way impacted who they are, not only genetically, but through their influence on their family narrative, for better or for worse.

The more we can learn about the stories of all of these fascinating characters, the better we can know and understand ourselves, and the better choices we can make about consciously selecting what parts of the story we want to celebrate--and pass on--and what parts we want to remember as reminders of valuable lessons to be learned.

Far better to embrace the story, to own it as it really is, than to seek to distance ourselves from it and thus give it ever more power to impact us in ways we may not even realize.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

HARD TIME VIRGINIA Volume 2, Number 2

Virginia Public Radio photo
Deaths In Virginia Prisons
According to the 12/7/16 THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT suicide is the third largest cause of death among inmates in DOC custody, accounting for 32 deaths in the decade of 2004-2014, exceeded only by deaths resulting from cancer and from heart failure. 

Board of Corrections To Get Funding to Investigate Jail Deaths
The tragic death of mentally handicapped Jamychael Mitchell in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail 8 months ago has resulted in an action by the General Assemblyto budget $100,000 to investigate such incidents. according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Head of Maryland RAPP Meets With Harrisonburg Group
Tomiko Shine, with the Baltimore-based chapter of RAPP (Release for Aging Persons in Prison) met with some 60 concerned citizens in Harrisonburg February 9 to discuss ways of bringing about parole and geriatric release for deserving inmates. With her was Earl Nelson, who shared his personal experience of spending 48 years behind bars. Carla Peterson of Virginia CURE was also present to share her concerns.
     This was followed by showing a recently produced documentary by producer Wynonah Hogan on issues associated with overcrowding in our local jails.

Huge Bill For An Emergency Trip To The ER
An inmate in one of Virginia's prisons reports he received inadequate care for a case of heart failure that became serious last September. In January, partly as a result of this, he was rushed to a nearby hospital in an emergency vehicle with a life threatening heart attack. There he had a stint put in his heart and was returned to prison, only to later receive a bill from the ambulance service $1700 for his ride to the ER.

Blind Poet Denied Parole for the 30th Time
Minor Junior Smith, affectionately known as "Smitty", age 70, has been legally blind since an incident in which he was abused by his stepmother at the age of five.
     Incarcerated since 1971, Mr. Smith has been parole eligible for over 30 consecutive years. Yet in spite of his being a model prisoner and considered one of Buckingham Correctional Center's finest cafeteria workers, he is still being denied discretionary or geriatric parole release year after year.
     During his many years of incarceration, he reports having been emotionally, physically and sexually abused. In addition to writing poems about his past life and his prison experiences, he has published a biography entitled "Abused".
     Mr. Smith is proficient in Braille, and is in need of a Braille Writer and a table computer with 16 or 18 point fonts. So far he has been denied these accommodations.

"Prison Unit Four"  - by Minor Junior Smith

Neither Tom nor I knew that we were headed for Prison Unit Four.
The elderly jailer escorted us to Long-Chain Charlie from our cell door.
The young, tall convict hand-cuffed to me had a five-year bit.
Captain Gray exclaimed, "If there is any hell raised, then I will do it!"

Already, I knew about Tom's "Born To Raise Hell" tattoo on his arm.
I was expecting hard labor, having been raised on more than one farm.
Before arriving at the Penitentiary, I perceived us using shovels and picks.
Beside its administration office, we were issued numbers 91345 and 91346.

Just a few inmates were on the prison yard because of an on-going riot.
In the spring of 1968, we moped along near the Captain rather quiet.
Down in B-Basement, we received basic necessities, including a change of clothes.
Over our heads, we could hear breaking glass above the large cells in rows.

We were well sanitized in new prison garb once we had over-showered.
We soon learned that tear-gas had some unruly inmates over-powered.
In the hospital, we were given necessary shots and physicals despite the riot.
In the receiving unit, we were fed skimpy meals and usually remained quiet.

Sufficient meals or lack of exercise in the cell was not the only thing lacking.
So, one day, when Captain Young yelled out: "91345 and 91346," we got started packing.
There was a wired tail-gate beneath the camper he loaded us in.
Tom unlocked his hand-cuff and escaped by using a re-fill from a pen.

Convicts refusing to work received 15-days in jail on just bread and water.
In ditches, I was labeled "Blind Johnny" as the season grew hotter.
My new glasses from South Hill had lenses as thin as a window pane.
I didn't mind the hard labor, and we did not have to work out in the rain.

After a few seasons of ditch-digging, my gang returned to camp once more.
While headed for a shower, I saw five new offenders at Captain Young's door.
As I glanced in his direction, the big hoss gave me a friendly nod.
Within two years, Woodrow Brown and I would have a transporting job.

Out in the ditches and in leisures, I hung around Woodrow Brown.
Every Sunday morning, we attended church service, and nobody put us down.
After what I had done in Charlottesville, I had no real plans of my own.
Therefore, both Woodrow and I claimed Columbia, South Carolina as our home.

Then, one day in a ditch with him, spots before my eyes began to appear.
I balked on Captain Buchanan, but Captain Young, I began to suddenly fear.
Woodrow heard me complaining, grabbed my shovel and threw it up on the bank.
Recalling a mule Captain Young had jailed, I loafed to the water tank.

He had shot only a stalled tractor; I had been warned by several guys.
Between then and quitting time, I wondered what he might do about my eyes.
The next morning in South Hill, the doctor's hypothesis was high blood.
His good guess did not give me a vacation from the rocks and mud.

Captain Young and a trustee found me another job digging post holes.
Of course, at night, Wood and a few guys played different roles.
Inside of two weeks, I still saw spots, not expecting any real harm. 
However, Captain Young and the trustee took me to the State Prison Farm.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Media: 'The Enemy Of The American People'?

We hear a lot about a liberal bias in the press these days, as though media were a monolithic entity in which publishers collaborated and conspired to promote a progressive agenda and to bring down the current administration.

What the above graphic by the Pew Research Center shows is that media outlets are perceived by readers and listeners as representing a wide range of points of view. Pew's work is based not on an analysis of content, but on the actual news sources chosen by people based on their own stated ideological bent. 

I for one am grateful for our having a full range of points of view expressed through our (so far) free press. To say they are "the enemy of the American people" is far from the case. Rather, imperfect as they may be, they represent a major safeguard against our falling prey to tyranny and oppression. 

It is not by accident that the First Amendment of the Constitution enshrines both our freedom of expression and the freedom to live out our faith according to our own conscience and beliefs. My immigrant ancestors came to this land largely because of this promise.

May it ever remain so.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Help "Guns Into Plowshares" Find A New Home

Washington Post (photo by John Kelly)
I still remember how impressed I was seeing the gigantic "Guns Into Plowshares" project artist and sculptor Esther Augsburger and her son Michael were creating outside Kreiders Machine Shop just west of town.

Upon completion, this massive four-ton piece--with handguns welded all over it that had been confiscated by DC police--was moved to the grounds of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, where it was officially dedicated in 1997. Some time later, due to some renovations being done at the facility, it was temporarily put in storage and then set up at a less desirable location at the police department's evidence control building in the southeast part of the city.

The Metropolitan Police Department later expressed an interest in having the piece moved back to its original location, but that property is now up for sale, and the MPD is gifting the sculpture back to its creator.

On Tuesday, March 7, there will be a meeting at VMRC's Village Hall at 7 p.m. in which you are invited to bring your suggestions and questions for Esther Augsburger regarding the history and the future of the Guns Into Plowshares project.

Please come in honor of a work that needs to become ever more visible in a time like this.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

No Conditions For Loving, But Many For Living

David Augsburger, one of my family studies teachers years ago, makes a helpful distinction between 'conditions for loving' and 'conditions for living'. 

As followers of Jesus we are commanded to respect, love and care for everyone unconditionally, even our enemies, but there may be many 'conditions for living' that define our relationships with others, whether in a friendship or in some other partnership as parents or spouses.

We may need to set reasonable and clear limits, for example, as to the amount of time or money we have to give to others. And to make clear what kinds of behaviors we are willing, or unwilling, to tolerate. If these reasonable and clear conditions are not respected, the relationship itself may need to be redefined. Others can then choose whether they value that enough to observe necessary agreements and agreed on boundaries.

As an example, if I am to engage in some business arrangement with another, I can insist that each party operate according to our contract, and not to make up arbitrary rules as we go along. I also have a right to expect that others engage in appropriate and respectful behaviors in the course of conducting business together. If those things don’t happen, I must still consistently demonstrate agape love toward them (perhaps tough love), but am not obligated to continue doing business with them.

Bottom line: While there are no conditions for unselfish loving, there may be many conditions for everyday living.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"It Was A Dark And Stormy Night"

After spending a blest afternoon with family after my brother Eli's funeral last Thursday, we experienced an unusual after-blessing later that night.

Just as we left our gathering I noted the indicator light on my dashboard telling me I had an under-inflated tire. Just what we need, I thought, as it was already dark, extremely cold and windy, and with a chill factor of who knows what. And we had over two hours of travel to get home.

So I dropped Alma Jean and our daughter Joanna off at the foyer of Hotel Floyd where Joanna's husband was to pick her up (after his evening meeting in Wake Forest) and asked the kind lady at the desk where I could check my tires. She suggested the Exxon station just down the street or the Floyd Express a few blocks further away.

So I bundled up and ventured out. When I went into the Exxon to get the quarters I needed to use the air pump the attendant kindly suggested the Floyd Express, where the air is free. Which turned out to be Blessing # 1.

In the back of the Express I found an air pump but one without a gauge, so I asked the pleasant truck driver next to it, who was filling his propane delivery truck with diesel fuel, if he had one I could borrow.

"You'll never believe this," he said with a big laugh, "but this is the third time I've been here that someone has asked me for a tire gauge. Looks like I'll just have to get myself one, that's for sure. I figure the good Lord has me here on this earth to help people, and that's what I like doing. But just let me look at your tires and I can pretty much tell you which one is low and I'll put some air in for you." Blessing #2.

Meanwhile he went on to tell me all about how he had a second job hauling rodeo bulls around the country and that he raised bulls of his own that he had to go home and feed that night. But he insisted he was in no hurry and that he was going to make sure I had the proper air in my tires before we got on the interstate. 

When I told him about our reason for being in Floyd he said, "Oh I know Eli! He's a good man, and I used to deliver propane to him! And is he related to Steve Yoder? He's another good man I deliver to at the mill." He was delighted to learn that Steve was Eli's son, and expressed his sincere condolences to our family. Blessing #3.

My angel unaware then came to the car, eyed the tires and proceeded to add air to the one he thought needed it. "You can tell by the shape and looks of the tire," he said reassuringly. "Now check and see whether the indicator light is still on."

Unfortunately it was. So he added air to the other front tire, while I held his portable light in the cold. The same result. "Well, let's go inside and see if they have a tire gauge," he said.

They did, a cheap one for $2.50, which I promptly bought and gave him. "Now you'll have the tire gauge people keep asking you for!" I said, glad to at least do that much for this kind man. Blessing # 4.

Turns out one of the rear ones was the one that was low, but he insisted on checking them all and seeing to it that each had 35 pounds of pressure (a good thing, since the front ones were by then at around 40). Final blessing.

So there's my angel story, another example of what I've begun to call "Mercy's Law", the one that counters Murphy's Law, which holds that if anything can go wrong it will go wrong.

I so wish I had written down this kind person's name, but my aging brain can no longer recall it. So if any of you down at Floyd run across a propane truck driver who likes to help people and who has a farm where he raises rodeo bulls and transports them on weekends and who has a wife and four children, let me know. I'd like to send him a thank you note and a blessing. And maybe warn him not to trust his new, cheap tire gauge too much, since I discovered when I had my tires re-checked that most of them were over-inflated--certainly not his fault :-)

So there's my latest angel story. I'm still thanking God that on a miserably cold and windy night Alma Jean could be spending some good time with Joanna while I was blessed with the generous help of a Good Samaritan who loved giving people a hand when they needed it.

2/16/17 P.S. I just learned from one of my Floyd relatives that my hero is Wally Galla, who delivers propane for Southwestern Virginia Gas Service Corporation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Under Jesus' Administration The Rich Become Joyfully Poorer And The Poor Joyfully Richer

The unquestioned assumption of most well to do Americans, including Christians, is that we deserve to be ever richer every year of our earning lives. Given that undisputed belief, whatever giving we do is carefully calculated to ensure that it doesn't interfere with our goal of accumulating more wealth for ourselves, something that is seen as our inalienable right.

Jesus and his first century apostles consistently challenged that assumption. The only way to become truly wealthy, according to our Master, is to invest hugely in the economy of heaven. Speaking for what is in the best interest of Kingdom citizens, Jesus commands us to seriously reduce what we own in order to reinvest more wealth to better the lives of the impoverished and disadvantaged. In doing so, we gain substantial Kingdom of Heaven stock, Jesus says, imperishable and fantastically profitable in all the ways that forever matter.


"Use your money to make friends for God, then when everything is over, those you have blessed with your investments will bless you with a warm welcome into your everlasting home." (Jesus, Luke 16:9)

"Don't make the mistake of hoarding more and more personal wealth here on earth, of the kind that moths and rust can cause damage, or the kind that burglars can rob. Instead, invest it in heaven approved stock, where nothing can ever damage or diminish it." (Jesus, Matthew 6:19-20)

"All of the believers freely shared what they had with each other, even selling their possessions in order to make sure that there were no unmet needs among them." (Luke, Acts 2:44-45)

"You who have plenty should should share generously with those who are without. Then at some time they can share with you when you need it. In that way everyone will be sure to have enough." (Paul, II Corinthians 9:14)

"We all have to think if we can become a little poorer. All of us have to ask, 'How can I become a little poorer in order to be more like Jesus?'"  
- Pope Francis

"I was told that Gandhi once said, 'If Christians would live their lives according to the teachings of Jesus Christ there would be no more Hindus in India'."
- Mother Teresa

Here's a link on how to do some great Kingdom of Heaven investing right now: 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Blessed By The Difference Love Makes

Being with family and friends at my brother's memorial service in Floyd County Thursday gave me a new appreciation for the value of time-honored funeral and burial rituals. The reading of familiar texts of faith, the affirmations celebrated in hymns of hope, and the expressions of love and care shown by so many helped make the grief bearable.

But the greatest healing came with the love.

As long lines of loving well wishers made their way past my brother's open casket at the two visitation nights, his bereaved wife and other members of our immediate family received assurance after loving reassurance that a caring community will remain long after Eli's grave is covered in a blanket of earth. Each embrace and touch of a loved one added a rich deposit to our bank of hope, assuring us we will never be completely alone in our grief.

Without love, we are lost. There is nothing left but despair. With love, we can feel free to cry and still know we will never be abandoned.

My own torrent of tears came in the love shared by a dear church friend of pastor Eli's, in the form of a tribute she had written several weeks before and which was read at the end of his memorial service. It was inspired, she said, by the following line in a recently published book Eli's daughter, my niece Judy, has written about his life story:

 "At recess time Eli's eyes sparkled. It did not matter so much at recess that he was small, for he was fast on his feet. Even the big boys said so."       -- By the Fields of Fish Creek

Run, Brother Eli!
     Arrow straight-shot toward the Son -- with crumbling vertebrae?

Run, Brother Eli!
     Faith-on-adrenaline surging forward -- cold cancer encroaching on warm vitality?

Run, Brother Eli!
     Heart-light, sins forgiven, quickened pace by Spirit wind -- lying flat, entangled in bed sheets and IV lines?

Run, Brother Eli!
     Finish-line focus, face-of-Jesus, shining clarity -- obscured consciousness--fighting through clouds--pain--medication!

Run, Brother Eli, run!
     Look at him fly down the track! -- see, he's pulling ahead of the rest! -- he's -- YES! HE'S WINNING!!

You've encouraged us onward and upward many times, Brother Eli; can you hear us now cheering for you?

- Sister Nan (Diane Freed)

Friday, February 10, 2017

"Know That You Belong Here": An Iowa Principal Addresses His Immigrant Students

Theodore Roosevelt High School

Kevin Biggs, principal of the Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, made the following announcement to his students after President Trump announced his recent refugee and immigrant ban. Students at Roosevelt High, like those at our local Harrisonburg High School, also represent some 40 language groups: 

"Good Morning Roughriders:

"I apologize for the interruption. Please place down your pens or pencils and listen to this announcement. This weekend, much of the world’s attention was focused on an effort by the federal government to impose far-reaching restrictions on the ability of immigrants and refugees to come to the United States. From protesters at airports and on the streets to lawyers and judges in courtrooms, there was a swift reaction by many in support of immigrants and refugees.

"To all of our students who are immigrants or refugees – and to their friends and classmates and teachers who are also concerned because of these recent events – know that you belong here – Roosevelt HS and DMPS stands by you. As you know, TRHS is a school of such diversity, with a student body that encompasses over 40 different languages and cultures. Over the years, thousands of refugee students from around the world have attended school at DMPS. Many have labeled TRHS as the most diverse high school in the state of Iowa, which in my opinion is a strength and gift that we are to be extremely proud of, but also use to grow as human beings.

"Each one of you is sitting here today because your parents or guardians wanted you to attend a real-world high school, that exposed you to various cultures, religions, languages, experiences, and beliefs…because understanding and respecting these differences is what allows each of us to grow into the respecting, accepting, and loving leaders of tomorrow. Because of your attendance at TRHS, I believe you possess, or will eventually possess, a unique perspective on life and the world, one that will prepare you well for whatever conflict is thrown your way in the next few years.

"For our students of immigrant families, we want to help you learn and succeed in school. We want to see you have fun and make friends and find your passions. We want to be there to celebrate that day when you walk across a stage to receive your diploma. We want to help you grow into the people you want to become. At TRHS, we welcome immigrants and refugees as our students and families, as our neighbors and friends. The entire district values our students, no matter where they might come from – this is your home and we are honored to serve you. The adults in the building are here to help in any way that you might  need.

"When children in Des Moines show up at our schools – no matter their place of birth or religion or language or skin color – they should know that they belong here and we stand by them. America is a country of immigrants; every one of us has roots which began in countries across the globe. America was built on the pursuit of freedoms, and it is our responsibility as citizens to stand-up for what we believe is right and just.

"For our immigrant students, especially those of you who’s home country is Iran, or Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, or Somalia…we are here to support you as this attempt to ban your family from our country is constructed by the federal government. I ask every TRHS student to stand by our friends, support them with unwavering love and empathy, and be respectful during this chaotic time. This is a time where Roughriders can show the world what happens when unity and love can overcome injustice. We love and respect each and every one of you and hope to prove that through our actions each day. Thank you for providing me a few minutes of your time. Go Riders!"

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Special Brother Eli's Obituary

Brother Eli and his beloved Ruth (photo by Steve Yoder)
Eli Yoder was born October 25, 1934, in Nowata, Oklahoma to Ben and Mary (Nisly) Yoder. When he was 11 years old, the family moved to Stuarts Draft, Va. where he spent the rest of his growing up years. 

In Stuarts Draft on July 1, 1954, he married Ruth N. Yoder, who survives. Their marriage was 60 plus years of love, trust and devotion. This was made especially evident the last several years as Eli experienced two back surgeries, gall bladder surgery and finally cancer. This involved many hospital stays, radiation treatments, and the almost constant day and night struggle to relieve the severe pain that went along with multiple back fractures that came as a result of his condition. 

Eli was ordained to the ministry on January 14, 1962. It was a calling he took very seriously and served faithfully his whole life, first at Bethel Mennonite Church, Gladys, Va., and then for the last 20 years at Wills Ridge Mennonite Church, Floyd, Va. He also was an evangelist, and held gospel meetings here and there all over the country. He officially retired just last month, after serving for 55 years. 

Eli spend his early working years as a farmer, heavy equipment operator and carpenter. He built many sets of kitchen cabinets and in his later years built many pieces of fine furniture. He was probably never happier than when he was in his shop, his pencil above his ear, working with wood. 

He was preceded in death by a sister Lovina; a sister, Esther and husband, Robert Yoder; a sister, Lucy; a sister, Mary Beth and husband, Harven Shifflett; and an infant brother. He is survived by his wife, Ruth N. Yoder of Floyd, Va.; four sons, Merle and wife, Mary of Long Island, Va., Robbie and wife, Lydia of Gladys, Va., Steve and wife, Joan of Floyd, Va., and Calvin and wife, Sheila of Wakarusa, Ind. Also, one daughter, Judy and husband, David Yoder of Floyd, Va. There are 26 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren. Also surviving are two brothers, Sanford and wife, Martha of Costa Rica, Central America, and Harvey and wife, Alma Jean of Harrisonburg, Va.; one brother-in-law, Alvin Schrock of Staunton, Va.; two sisters, Magdalena and husband, Alvin Schrock of Cumberland, Va. and Fannie Mae of Staunton, Va. 

The family will receive friends on Tuesday, February 7, 2017,from 6 to 8 p.m. at Mayberry Funeral Home, 376 South Locust Street, Floyd, Va., and also Wednesday, February 8, 2017,from 6 to 8 p.m. at Wills Ridge Mennonite Church, 152 Wills Ridge Rd., Floyd, Va. The funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday, February 9, 2017,at the Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren, 409 Ridgeview Rd., Floyd, Va. 

The family wishes to thank everyone for their care and kindness during this difficult time.

Monday, February 6, 2017

In Defense Of Barring Immigrants And Refugees

Alexandre Bissonnette
In a strange twist of logic, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer referred last Monday to a white supremacist's killing of Muslims at prayer in a Montreal mosque as a "terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant. And why the president is taking steps to be proactive, not reactive." 

Never mind the fact that the killer was not only not from a Muslim country, but was a caucasian university student who was an admirer of President. 

In spite of that irony, Spicer went on to explain, "As I said in the statement, the president is going to be very proactive in protecting this country. ... That's the key point in this — how do we get ahead of threats? How do we keep America ahead of the curve, when it comes to people who want to do us harm?"

How indeed, when most acts of terror in our nation have been by US citizens (of a variety of colors) rather than by foreign agents?

In a similarly outrageous development, columnist Patrick Buchanan recently wrote:

"In 1960, we were a Western Christian country. Ninety percent of our people traced their roots to Europe. Ninety percent bore some connection to the Christian faith. To the tens of millions for whom Trump appeals, what the wall represents is our last chance to preserve that nation and people."

It's hard to read this as anything but saying that brown and black people don't really belong here, in spite of the fact that non-white native Americans were here before we were, and that many people entering this country from south of us also represent a European (Spanish) culture, and are often a part of Christian churches that are among the most vital in our nation. 

As to other people of color, most African Americans are here because of forced subjection and slavery. And Buchanan ignores the fact that the early '60's were a time of Jim Crow racism and the denial of the most basic of civil rights for the large group of African Americans he fails to even reference in his piece. 

So how can going back to the sixties make us great again? By becoming predominantly white again? By having American "Christians" discriminate against people from other continents as having lesser value? 

I don't think so.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Holy Scripture In Four-Part Harmony

Last Sunday's four lectionary texts again reminded me of the amazing diversity we find in the authoritative writings that make up the Bible.

The Psalm 15 lesson, for a start, shows us that we earn God's favor by living a blameless and sincere life. If we avoid doing harm to others, keep our promises even if it costs us, fearlessly speak out against evildoers, and lend to the poor without charging interest, we can be assured of God's forever blessings.

In the Micah 6:1-8 text the prophet declares that simply obeying rules and offering costly sacrifices are not enough. What God really requires is that we live by heart-felt principles of justice, mercy and humility.

The text from the first letter of Paul to Corinthian believers focuses entirely on the work God has done for us rather than the work we do for God or for others. The apostle doesn't emphasize the life or message of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels (which weren't yet in written form) but celebrates the gracious gift of the crucified and resurrected Christ in enabling us to become "cruciformed" into his likeness.

In the Gospel text, from the first part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus brings all of these elements together. We are thoroughly blessed and graciously received by God, Jesus says, by recognizing our neediness and dependence on God's grace, then practicing mercy, engaging in peacemaking, and willingly suffering persecution as Christ and the prophets did.

The image that came to mind as I led our house church Bible study was that of a musical score. On the top line of the treble clef is the dominant soprano line, which mostly carries the all-important melody. I see this as a metaphor for the ultimate revelation of God's truth Christians see in the life, deeds, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The next supporting line is for the alto voices, comparable to the words and acts of first century apostles and church leaders, with their vision of Jesus of Nazareth as the exalted redeemer given for people of every tribe, language and race everywhere.

The tenor line in the bass clef I picture as one representing the voice of the Biblical prophets, urging us to live above and beyond a mere conformity to rules and in accordance with God's original vision of shalom, in which "nothing is marred and nothing is missing".

The bass line (and baseline) in this lower clef could be seen as representing the foundational laws and decrees in the Torah, as advanced by judges, priests and kings who were a part of God's covenant people.

These diverse voices aren't meant to be reduced into one unison-sounding monotone. They are meant to each enrich and corroborate a body of truth that is multi-faceted, that is rich in its harmony and in its power to move us. Sometimes we may still be jarred by some of the dissonant chords in the chorale, but we'll keep singing together until all heaven breaks loose and God's purpose reaches its final crescendo, where all tears are wiped away and God's will is accomplished here on a renewed earth as it is in heaven.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Young Filmmaker's New Documentary Debuts Thursday February 9

Wynona Hogan photo
Not many sixteen-year-olds have completed a 55-minute documentary by the time they are sophomores in high school. But Wynona Hogan of Bridgewater is far from your ordinary teenager.

The oldest of six children, she and her siblings are home schooled, and the film has been one of her school projects. She also enjoys reading, crafting, sewing, playing piano, being a part of the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Era Dancers, showing crafts and canned goods at the annual County Fair, and being an active member of the local (Anglican) Church of the Incarnation.

Two years ago Wynona single-handedly gathered 262 signatures of local people opposed to building a new jail to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of people we incarcerate in our area. She was concerned about the 500% spike in the last two decades during which our population grew by only 25%.

This project got her interested in enlisting some other youth and young adult volunteers in March of 2015 to help her produce her recently completed documentary, Rocktown Justice: UNLOCKED, consisting of candid interviews with key community leaders and others involved in our local criminal justice system.

The result is remarkably professional and impressive. It can be viewed on YouTube, but there is a public showing set for 1 pm Thursday, February 9, at the Trinity Presbyterian Church on the corner of Maryland Avenue and South High Street.

This free community event, sponsored by the local Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Valley Justice Coalition, actually begins at noon at Trinity with a one-hour presentation by Tomika Shine of the Baltimore-based RAPP (Release of Aging Persons in Prison), who is bringing with her Earl Nelson, a former inmate who spent 48 years behind bars.

The recent replacement of the chairperson of the Virginia Parole Board by Governor McAuliffe, due to his feeling the Board was not being aggressive enough in carrying out reforms recommended by the Virginia Commission on Parole Review, may result in a change in the number of geriatric parole releases granted by the Board.  Representatives of statewide organizations including Virginia CURE (Carla Peterson), the Exodus19:4 organization (Jae George), and RIHD (Lillie Branch-Kennedy) also plan to be present.

Please invite others to join you in attending this important meeting.