Thursday, March 30, 2017

Should Food Addicted People Be Incarcerated?

I have a lot of empathy for people who fight a losing battle with fat, salt and sugar addictions, and for those who feel they can't get through a day without ingesting large quantities of harmful, calorie-laden comfort foods.

But most of us see serious overeating and extreme obesity as mental health and medical problems rather than as crimes calling for prosecution and incarceration.

Yet this is mostly how we deal with people who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs. There may of course often be real crimes associated with people who are hooked on harmful substances, such as disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, selling illegal drugs, or stealing in order to support a drug habit. These need to be dealt with justly and on their own merits.

But should we not invest in more detox centers and treatment facilities rather than just locking people up because they are harming themselves with must-have substances that are bad for them?

The approach we are taking now is clearly not working, and its past time to come up with an approach that is more effective in saving lives and preserving health.

Here's a link to another piece on this topic

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When Truth No Longer Appears To Matter

Christ Before Pilate, by Mihaly Munkacsy
"Thou shalt not bear false witness."
- from the Ten Commandments

"I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."
- Jesus Christ

"What is truth?"
- Pontius Pilate

"I cannot tell a lie."
- from a fake story about young George Washington

“Gentlemen, I depended on this witness to clear my client. He has lied. I ask that no attention be paid to his testimony. Let his words be stricken out, if my case fails. I do not wish to win in this way.” 
- Abraham ("Honest Abe") Lincoln

"A little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration--and a very effective form of promotion".
- Donald Trump, in The Art of The Deal
The cover of last week's TIME magazine featured the disturbing question, Is Truth Dead? Their cover format was identical to an even more controversial April 8, 1966 cover which asked, Is God Dead? 

And maybe there's a direct link between the two, a loss of faith in God contributing to a loss of fidelity in our speech.

Here's the link to TIME's feature article on the demise of truth: Can President Trump Handle the Truth?

This article was followed this weekend by a CBS's 60-Minutes segment which featured an even more sobering report on how mass producing and disseminating fake news of all kinds, aimed at both left and right, has become a sophisticated and highly profitable enterprise. 

CBS's Scott Pelley interviewed the person who invented and circulated widely believed faux stories about Hilary Clinton's having Parkinson's disease and another about the Clinton's alleged involvement in a pedophile sex ring operating out of a DC pizza parlor. What was absolutely chilling was that the perpetrator refused to acknowledge to Pelley that he was lying, even though as a result of his massively publicized report the innocent pizza restaurant owner in question was nearly killed by a crazed gunman who believed the account.

Here's a link to the 60-Minutes segment, at around 17:30 minutes:

"Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace."
- Zechariah 8:16 (ESV)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Friend's Fast For The Healing Of A Nation

Daryl, now director of EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, has been an exemplary role model for many.
I've had the privilege of knowing Daryl Byler ever since he was a lad growing up in the church where I served as pastor for over two decades. He and his wife Cindy have been a special blessing to us and to many others here in the area, as well as in far off places like Mississippi, Jordan and other locations where they have lived and served.

I was especially moved by Daryl's latest decision to go on a water and juice fast during Lent as he prays daily for the world's healing and writes letters and tweets regularly to President Trump and some of his religious supporters and advisors.

In an email response yesterday to my inquiry about how he was doing, he wrote,

"My energy level has been good and am grateful that I've been able to walk to and from work each day. Cindy has been a wonderful and understanding source of support and so many persons have been offering prayers and encouraging words. I feel blessed and cared for in this journey. The most challenging part has not been the fasting (I don't feel hungry), but working on a new reflection each day -- specifically, trying to find a healthy balance between challenging the President's words and actions, and setting a tone of invitation and dialogue."

You can follow the insightful daily reflections Daryl writes for the president at  Let's continue to pray for Daryl through the remaining days of Lent, and join him in praying and in some fasting of our own for our nation's healing.

Here's a link to an interview Daryl did recently for our local TV station:

And here is an earlier post on Daryl's late father, a truly good man and mentor:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Demonic Trinity Of Evil: Nationalism, Civil Religion and Greed-based Economics

Albrecht Dürer's portrayal of the fearsome Beast (right) and deceptive False Prophet (left) of  the Revelation 
Among the ways the last book of our Bible is truly revelatory is in its portrayal of violence and harm as perpetrated by evil systems rather than simply by individual evildoers. The Revelation does so through a collage of dramatic images of the kind that we are used to seeing in political cartoons in our media.

A triumvirate of evil, manifest in many forms throughout human history and inspired by the epitome of all evil, Satan, is represented in the Revelation as follows:

                                               The Great Harlot
                                             (massive addiction to 
                                      a greed-based economic system)

                                     THE GREAT RED DRAGON

       THE FIRST BEAST                                    THE SECOND BEAST
    A Many-Headed Monster                               A Lamb-like False Prophet
 (massive oppression through                         (massive persuasion through a
an evil political system)                                              deceptive belief system)

Regardless of how one feels about the mystifying collage of images and metaphors found in the Apocalypse (which means "unveiling"), I find its symbolic portrayal of the nature of evil profound and insightful.

The Revelation doesn’t refute the view that sin and wrongdoing result from individuals yielding to personal temptations, but presents us with a much more comprehensive picture of evil as a force that controls the very systems that tend to hold all of us in their grip. 

First century believers, who lived under the most advanced and most oppressive empire of their time, understood this. They realized how much evil comes from simply going along with whatever have become the political, economic and religious norms of the day. In other words, we sin by simply doing what everyone is expected to do, by supporting the seemingly normal and acceptable status quo. 

In this way, the Evil One, the Dragon, the Ruler of Darkness becomes much more efficient at perpetrating violence and other forms of evil, by infusing the world’s very systems and institutions with it, as follows:

This is a symbol of political power become cruel and heartless. In the cartoon-like portrayal of this creature in Revelation 13, we see a fearful looking creature with many heads and many horns. While the original readers of the Apocalypse would have clearly associated this with Rome, this “beast” is still at work wherever governments, ordained by God to preserve order and do justice, instead become agents of destruction, intimidation and oppression. This beastliness is everywhere, exists under many flags and is a part of many (if not all) forms of human government.

By contrast, this creature appears benign and harmless, and is portrayed as a lamb with two innocent looking horns. “Lamb” is, of course, the metaphor used most often for the slain but triumphant Christ in the Revelation, but this false imitation has “a voice like the Dragon” (Satan). In other words, it is like a devil in lamb’s clothing, and its primary purpose is to persuade the masses to give their full allegiance to the First Beast (above).

In the first century, this would have involved an actual cult of emperor worship, but in every age and in every place, oppressive regimes rely on various forms of false religious or secular belief systems for their support and validation. These includes, in our time, the nationalistic cult of civil religion, based on the myth of American exceptionalism and of our being a superior and indestructible nation. All “God and country” based religion extol patriotism as one of its highest virtue, as do secular belief systems like socialism, fascism, or communism.  All serve one and the same purpose, to convince people that by serving the First Beast they are serving God or some other form of supreme good.

BABYLON (THE GREAT HARLOT) (Revelation 14-19)
This seductive woman sits royally astride the First Beast, the one with seven heads and ten horns. She is the antithesis of the Radiant Woman in Revelation 12 who represents the holy people of God. Babylon is dressed in purple and scarlet and bedecked with gold and expensive jewelry of all kinds. She holds a seductively beautiful gold cup in her hands but one that is filled with filth. All the kings of the earth commit adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth weep and wail when she finally collapses in ruin.

Babylon is the symbol of a greedy and self indulgent global economic system that is in bed with political powers everywhere.  So great is her grip on the wealthy and her ability to oppress the world’s poor and add to their misery that all heaven breaks loose with a chorus of praise when she collapses (Interestingly, the words of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus in his “Messiah” oratorio are from this section of the Apocalypse).

This three-fold combination of the oppressive political power of world's empires, the persuasive power of  false belief systems that support such powers, and the seductive power of greed and wealth that is wedded to them, all results in evil being deeply entrenched in the institutions that govern our world. 

Only the kind of alternative power available to the followers of the slain Lamb can keep us from being controlled by this triumvirate of evil.

"Ours is not a conflict with mere flesh and blood, but with the despotisms, the empires, the forces that control and govern this dark world--the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed against us..."

  Ephesians 6:12 (Weymouth translation)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A 1742 Journey On The "Francis and Elizabeth"

This ship is likely similar to the one that carried my ancestors.
I spent some time at EMU's Historical Library yesterday to see if I could find the name of the ship that brought Christian Yoder and family (including his sixteen-year-old-son Christian, my direct ancestor) across the Atlantic. Turns out it was the "Francis and Elizabeth", which left Rotterdam some time in midsummer of 1742, stopped briefly in London and finally landed in the port of Philadelphia on September 21, 1742. 

The three-volume work I found at EMU contained photocopies of signatures of a total of 149 men, not counting the ship's crew, who survived the perilous crossing on the F & E and who then officially signed away their past citizenship and pledged their loyalty to the Crown. There are no names listed of the women and children, but their total number was listed as 74 1/2 (The "1/2" apparently comes from adding an uneven number of children who under a certain age were counted as half a passenger, since they didn't take up as much space). 

It was amazing to see a copy of the actual signature of one of my paternal ancestors. But I was at first puzzled as to why there was only one Christian Yoder on the list, though I did find a Christian Yotter. Was he someone completely unrelated, and were 16-year-olds simply counted as children? Or could the younger Christian have chosen to use the more English-sounding spelling of the name "Joder" (pronounced Yoder, or Yetter in German), while the elder may have used a Swiss or German spelling, Yotter?

Not sure.

I also looked up Christian Nisly, one of my maternal ancestors who came to the new world in 1804 at age 17. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anyone listed by that name or by other variations of it, like Nusli, Neusley, or Nissli. Family stories passed on through the generations have it that his vessel nearly capsized in a storm and that the ship was attacked by pirates on the way, a common occurrence. And like virtually all cross-Atlantic voyages of that era, there would certainly have been a lot of sickness on board, some of which resulted in the tragic deaths of passengers who had to be buried at sea.

So many questions, so much trauma, so much courage, so many untold stories! 

"Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours."      
Hebrews 11:39-40 (the Message)

Here's a link to a later story on my ancestor Christian Yoder. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

FLRC Will Offer A Free Marriage Class As Part Of Its 30th Anniversary Observance

My book will be free to the first five couples who sign up.
After nearly three decades of counseling and offering classes at the Family Life Resource Center, I plan to lead one more four-session Marriage Maintenance Class at the Center starting 7-8:30 pm Monday, April 3.

FLRC is offering the series on a donation basis as a part of its 30th Anniversary observance. All contributions are tax deductible, and will go toward our scholarship fund to assist clients without health coverage and who otherwise may not be able to afford counseling.

I have always loved leading this class, meant for those of us whose relationships are not necessarily in crisis, but who see value in working at better managing our problems and adding to our blessings.

The focus of the first session is on investing more time, energy and creativity in the "Problem Free Area" of our relationship, much as we do when we are dating each other and concentrating on what we truly appreciate and enjoy about being together. Many of us find this part of our relationship depleted over time and in need of fresh attention. In this area it takes two people working together to create positive change.

The second session focuses on our "Personal Problem Area", based on the premise that not all problems in a marriage are actually marriage problems, but are individual problems that can cause serious stress in a relationship. In this area each of us must take 100% responsibility for our own growth and change, with whatever help we needs to become the healthy and happy half of the marital pair. These problems are ones we tend to bring with us, and if, God forbid, the marriage were over, we would take with them us.

The focus for the third evening is on how to do more listening and less lecturing regarding issues that are in the "Spouse's Problem Area", where we have the least power to bring about change, but where we can provide important support and encouragement as the other person deals with their personal issues. Not surprisingly, this is the area in which most of us invest an excessive amount of time and attention, a big mistake and generally a huge waste of time.

The last session involves our setting aside times when we temporarily leave the "Problem Free Area" and work with our partner to address issues we "filed" for the purpose of addressing in our "Mutual Problem Area", in the same kind of rational and objective way we might deal with issues that come up in any business or other partnership. In the class we learn the value of having regular couples meeting solely for this purpose, where we become skilled at attacking whatever problems we put on the table, and strictly avoid attacking or blaming each other.

This is a fun class limited to about 12 couples. We welcome your taking part!

Register by calling 540-434-8450 or emailing

Note: A later special event marking FLRC's 30th birthday will be a fund raising dinner and celebration at 5:30 pm Saturday, May 6, 2017, at the Park View Mennonite Church. The Board has asked me to be the main speaker for that event, and the Cantore Men's A Cappella Ensemble  will provide special music. Please register in advance!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Does The New Proposed Budget Make US Safer?

There is far less waste and duplication in these departments than in the nation's military spending.

Joseph Nye popularized the principle of how a nation's "soft power" adds much more to its security than the "hard power" of military might. Soft power has to do with the influence a country like the US has when it demonstrates how much a free society can offer its citizens, and when it collaborates with developing countries to help them become more prosperous and the world more peaceful. China understands this principle, and continues to make major investments in emerging economies all over the world.

Much has been made of the fact that a nation's security depends not only on defense, but equally on diplomacy and on development. Unfortunately, the new budget slashes money for the State Department and limits the future influence the US will have in both its diplomacy and through promoting international aid and development.

Meanwhile, billions spent on ever more efficient means of killing, maiming and destroying will make a nation less safe, not more so. We've already wasted more of the world's limited resources in so-called "defense spending" than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, France, India and Germany, the next largest spenders.

Could it be that multiple development and relief agencies like CARE, World Vision and even our own Mennonite Central Committee, small as they are, are the ones spreading goodwill and good influence all around the world in ways that really do help make everyone safer?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Join In Some Serious Relief Sale Brainstorming!

A new "S.O.S." (Sharing Our Surplus) Drive will help alleviate war refugee suffering.
When I met with the Virginia Relief Sale Committee recently they encouraged me to enlist whatever help I could to promote something new for this year's September 29-30 Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sale. We will be encouraging this year's attendees to not only support all of the usual auction and food sales efforts as never before, but to also make generous credit card or check contributions at the annual event held at the Rockingham Fairgrounds.

This is to be an extraordinary response to an extraordinary world tragedy, a widespread (and growing) refugee crisis of unimaginable proportions. The dream is to more than double our total income at this event, which last year raised a near record $341,000.

Thus I am inviting interested persons to a 7 pm Wednesday, April 12, meeting at Village Hall at VMRC (just off Shank Drive) to help generate as many ideas as possible to help promote this initiative. We might want to solicit matching money from area businesses, for example, as well as work together at creative ways of drumming up a ton of support for the idea. 

Your attendance will not obligate you to any further involvement in this project. Just bring your ideas and help promote some massive giving to Mennonite Central Committee, both now and at the Relief Sale.

Here's a link to an earlier post on this idea.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Small Signs And Great Wonders

It all started with this hand printed sign placed in front of a church in our home town
In the midst of all the anti-immigrant rhetoric associated with the recent primary campaign my fellow Harrisonburg pastor Matthew Bucher came up with the idea of putting a welcoming sign in front of his church. Immanuel Mennonite is located in a very diverse Hispanic, Arabic and African American community.

Upon receiving numerous affirmations for the sign's message, members of the Harrisonburg District Mission Advisory Commission, Jennifer Davis-Sensenig, Ben Risser, Nick Meyer, and Bucher, collaborated to get 300 yard signs printed for interested individuals and congregations in the area. When they sold out of these, at $10 each, Immanuel Mennonite Church decided to produce an additional 1000 of them.

The rest, as they say, is history. An estimated 20,000 signs can now be found all over the US and in Canada. Many are downloading their own from a website which offers numerous language options, including one with the Canadian and British spelling of "neighbour".

The Huffington Post, National Public Radio, the Washington Post, and numerous local and national media outlets have picked up on the story, and the Facebook page dedicated to this project has resulted in nearly 10,000 "Likes'.

For some really inspirational reading, check out the photos and comments on the project's Facebook page and on the Immanuel Mennonite Church website. I think you'll enjoy having some truly good signs and wonders to celebrate.

Signs are available locally at the Roberta Webb Child Care Center located at the Immanuel Mennonite Church on Kelley Street, which benefits from the profits from the project, or you can order a sign and have it shipped to you. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Waking Up Is Hard To Do

The kind of engineering we can always rely on
"But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute."  
Among the few books we had in our family library at home was one on the April 14, 1912, sinking of the Titanic, billed as the finest and most reliable ocean liner ever. I remember how horrified I was reading about the fate of all the people who wined and dined together in high style on that voyage, oblivious to the disaster that awaited them.

In a similar way we may find ourselves lulled into believing that our ship of state, the now aging republic known as the United States of America, will endure forever. We are promised it will not only manage to avoid any future decline or disaster (of the kind that all empires of the past have experienced) but will gain ever increasing greatness.

Thus in spite of the fact that both scripture and history tell us differently, we continue to trust in our broken economic and political system as though there were no tomorrow, or that our every tomorrow will be just like the present.

In his book "Rewilding the Way", Todd Wynward quotes from the Dark Mountain Project, a group of artists and writers who take a contrasting view of where things are headed: 

"Human civilization... is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future. We live in an age in which familiar restraints are being kicked away, and foundations snatched from under us... A similar human story is being played out. It is the story of empire eroding from within us. It is the story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how that people will cope with the crumbling of their own myths. It is our story."

Friday, March 10, 2017

Give Us This Day Our Daily Share

Instead of praying as Jesus taught, an American version of the Lord's Prayer might use a phrase like "Give us each day our daily feast", or a daily banquet or buffet. Clearly most of us would not be satisfied with an equal portion of what the world's seven billion have to live on in a typical day.

Should we not be content with just our fair share? Or do we somehow have the right to expect far more than others, and more than simply enough?

Jesus' prayer is, we should note, clearly not just for any one individual or family, but the pronouns are in the plural. The us and the our represent all believers worldwide, not just a favored few.

As author Todd Wyward points out in his book Rewilding The Way, Jesus clearly has the Exodus story in mind when he speaks of "daily bread". During their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. God's people were provided with a special food, manna, but only in sufficient quantity for each day, except on Friday when they were allowed to gather enough for the upcoming Sabbath as well.

Enough. Simply enough. That's a concept we have a hard time with, given our lifelong addiction to the accumulation of more, much more and still more. And sadly, when it comes to our health, we suffer from obesity and greatly increased risks for diabetes and other medical problems while millions are malnourished.

Yes, Jesus did enjoy a good feast every now and then, but instructed us to invite the normally uninvited and needy when we do plan one, and warns those who feel entitled to "fare sumptuously every day".

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hosting A Steady Stream Of Strangers

Inviting in some seedy strangers

"Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse."

Philippians 4:8 (the Message)

I can still remember when some of my classmates were getting their first television sets in their homes. These were capable of receiving black and white images only, and from one or two channels broadcasting from about 6 am to 10 pm on a good day.

By contrast, most households today have constant and countless viewing options on multiple receivers, including smart phones, laptops and other devices.

Is all of this just a matter of our accessing some fleeting and harmless images on a screen, or is it more like our indiscriminately inviting random strangers into our very living rooms, dens and bedrooms?

Think about it. Would we normally even think of letting well-rehearsed marketers inside our homes to incessantly invade our privacy and batter us with us an endless array of ads for their products and services? Since we tend to so resent telemarketers who bother us with unwanted phone calls, how did we begin to allow ourselves to become accustomed to a barrage of other forms of intrusive sales pitches?

Think abut it. How many professional entertainers and athletes (whose values are often directly counter to our own) would we ever consider actually inviting into our homes to perform for us?

And how selective should we be about having a regular lineup of preachers, politicians and pundits into our living rooms to propagate their views?

The short answer should be very, very selective, not only during Lent, but all year long. If we have a remote, we will improve our lives by keeping the power button mostly at Off, and inviting more real people we genuinely care about into our homes.

Monday, March 6, 2017

More Than A Dime's Worth Of Wisdom

I remember hearing a story many years ago of a father who gave his teen age daughter a special dime she was to carry with her at all times, one that in the days before cell phones could still be used for a phone call. 

"That’s just in case some guy you're with on a date propositions you or tries to seduce you," her father explained. "You can use it to call me anytime, day or night, and I’ll come and get you!"

She carried this 10¢ piece with her in a special case everywhere she went, simply as a reminder of all of the good values her father stood for, someone she deeply loved and respected.

Years later she did actually call him late one night and said breathlessly, "Dad, do you remember that dime you gave me? Well, for the first time in my life, I’m needing to use it!" 

They both enjoyed a good laugh. It was the first night of her honeymoon, a special night she and her newlywed husband had looked forward to, and waited for, during all of their dating and engagement.

I know that to many people these days that story sounds as quaint and as old fashioned as the idea of calling someone on a pay phone. But it reflects a timeless wisdom based on the familiar text about "leaving father and mother", "cleaving to one's spouse" and then "becoming one flesh". It's a well-proven recipe for couples living "happily ever after."

And I'm also old enough to remember that when the monumental 1996 University of Chicago study on Sexuality in America was published, it contained what was for many a surprise finding, that people in faithful, monogamous relationships reported having sex more often, and enjoying it more, than those involved in so-called “casual sex.”

Writer Mary Roach, in a article entitled “Much ‘I Do’ Over Mr. Right” writes about her decision to finally get married after a painful "emotional divorce" with someone she’d lived with for 13 years. 

“I used to balk at the idea of lifelong fidelity,” she said, “But what did I get for my decade and a half of relative freedom? ... Heart pulp. Guilt and regret. The knowledge that by refusing to commit myself fully to a relationship, I destroyed it.” She adds, “To share a house with someone but not marry sends a message--to him, our families, to everyone. It says, I love this man, but I’m not sure he’s it..."

"I used to think that the people who wanted me to marry simply wanted me to be yoked. Stop having adventures, they were saying, be bored and predictable like us. Now I think they wanted to see me married because they wished me well. They wanted me to have a reason to stay home. .....Now marriage no longer feels like a sacrifice. It feels like the winning lottery ticket. Nothing more perfect, I am certain, is going to appear on the mis-folded, coffee-stained road map of my life. I know what Johnny Cash was all about: 'I find it very, very easy to be true'.”

Saturday, March 4, 2017

"We Found Bodies Of Children On The Road"

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion--how can God's love be in that person?

- I John 3:17 (NLT)

I've always found it hard to read this kind of text, and found it equally difficult to get through an AP article on current victims of famine in eastern Africa, and especially in Somalia. An excerpt:

"Her eyes glued to the feeble movements of her malnourished baby with protruding ribs and sunken eyes, Fadumo Abdi Ibrahim struggled to hold back her tears in the stifling and crowded feeding center in Somalia's capitol. She waved a scrap of fabric over him to crate a current of air."

Fadumo, along with other families in parched rural Somalia, had hiked all day and all night without food or water to find help for their increasingly desperate plight. On their way they found several bodies of children left along the road by mothers too weak to carry their corpses.

Roughly half of Somalia's ten million people are experiencing severe food shortages, according to this piece, due to a lack of rain for three seasons in a row. The resources of neighboring countries are likewise being strained as they take in the increased numbers of refugees created by famine and war.

All of us who profess to be pro-life need to demonstrate a willingness to make major lifestyle changes to help our fellow human beings in situations like these. Pretending to be helpless in the face of a crisis this overwhelming will simply not serve as an acceptable excuse. For example:

1) We can and must give extravagantly.
2) We can radically reduce our consumption of meat and our overuse of carbon fuels that contribute to climate change.
3) We can help stop the ongoing destruction of Amazon rain forests which adversely affects the world's weather.
4) We must urge our nation to stop adding billions to a "defense budget" capable of killing ever more people while people are dying from lack of food and shelter.

We're in the season of Lent.  What an excellent time to engage in practices that promote life and well being for all!

Check out the above links for compassionate action steps.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Repost: If The Stars Shone Only One Night Every Thousand Years


The late professor M. T. Brackbill, a legend in his own time, has a planetarium named after him on the campus of nearby Eastern Mennonite University. He was an avid astronomer with an infectious love of the stars, and wrote the following piece a number of years prior to my being a student at what was then EMC. He retired after suffering a stroke in 1955, so I didn’t get to have him as teacher of his ever popular introductory class in astronomy, but I’ll never forget how that course, under the then very young instructor John L.Horst, expanded my view of the universe and gave me a new appreciation of how vast and how amazing that universe really is.

Here’s a slightly condensed version of Brackbill’s essay that I found recently while going through some of my old college folders:

Occasionally a nova flashes up in the sky, and newspaper headlines proclaim a new star! People go out in the night to find the newcomer, expecting to see something wonderful--and they do! But instead of finding one new star, they find thousands of the them, that, stars new to them; and they find the nova, if they find it all, no different from the other stars. So they go back to their homes disappointed. It is about as good as hearing that a new dandelion has opened on the lawn, adding another bloom to the dozens that are already there!

If there had never been any stars in the sky, and a star should appear, that would really be news. Everybody would be out to see it. But if several thousand stars would suddenly appear, that would be astounding news indeed! Some would say, “The world is coming to an end!”

Now let us suppose that the stars regularly shone only one night every thousand years. Let us say that today’s paper announced that, according to reliable predictions, the stars are to appear in exactly ten weeks from tonight. Everyone would be talking stars.

Meteorologists would study their cycles in earnest in order to predict the probable state of the weather on this night. The season would mark an all time high for tourists to those countries boasting sunny skies. Dirigibles, blimps and airplanes would be in readiness to take people above the weather if necessary.

Those working at night would plan to relieve each other in relays so that each would have a glance at the heavens on the night of the stars. Hospitals would arrange to wheel the sick out onto porches or balconies or to roll their beds close to windows. Prisoners in solitary confinement would be allowed at least a few minutes under guard in an open open courtyard. And those in death chambers doomed to die just a few days before the stars would be given a stay of sentence.

The night of the stars draws nearer. Expectancy becomes almost unbearable. The prospect is as entrancing as a hundred solar eclipses. Scientists make every preparation to study these strange and transient heavenly lights. Men and women die hoping against fate that they could have lived a few days longer to see the stars. People watch the empty sky each night for a possible premature appearance.

“Tonight the stars will come!” The exodus from the cities begins. The roads are rapidly lined with cars, mountains and hilltops are dotted with people. Housetops and roofs of skyscrapers are crowded with spectators. Excitement is intense. Anxious eyes watch the sun sink slowly to the horizon. “Will the stars come? Will they come?”

The west begins to glow. As twilight deepens, expectancy becomes almost overwhelming.

A shout! Someone catches the sight of Venus! All eyes strain to find the bright light in the west. Shout after shout arises as other eyes find it. And as the twilight edge creeps westward around the earth, new waves of shouts arise in other countries and in other tongues: “The stars!” “THE STARS!”

Another shout! Jupiter breaks though, then Saturn! And amid the “Ah’s” and Oh’s” and other exclamations from millions of throats along a pole-pole front, presently, in the east. Sirius shines out, palely at first, and then Rigel and Capella. Star after star after star breaks through, singly, then, by twos, by threes, soon by dozens, by fifties, by hundreds, bespangling the heavens in the deepening night. Oh, what a sight! What a ravishing vision of loveliness!

And now the Milky Way belts the starry dome, a hush comes over the earth, a gradual westward-bound subsiding of the exulting shouts of astonishment and praise. The sublime glory of the jewel studded skies slowly wheeling in quiet splendor brings a few hour of awe and universal peace to earth.

By and by the moon in its accustomed round lifts her face in the east, still the “Queen of the Night,” but now with six thousand subjects, the stars, heavenly subjects, and never so watched and adored by earth’s inhabitants.

What a night! The millennial pageant of the heavens!

Could we but see it every night!