Sunday, April 30, 2017

YOUCARING Fund For Rebecca, Mia and Kenzie

Rebecca and Cameron with Mia, now almost 2.
Kenzi, not pictured, is 3 months old.
We have had three recent funerals in our family, my brother Eli's in February, my brother-in-law Ernest's on the first day of April and my 23-year-old grandnephew Cameron's on this last day of the month.

While we should have been somewhat prepared for the first two of these losses, no one could have anticipated the sudden passing of Cameron, who died suddenly of a heretofore unrecognized heart condition this past week. Cameron, married less than three years ago to Becky, the passion of his life, left behind two young daughters Mia and Kenzie.

It was members of Cameron's extended family who led today's memorial service at Bethel Mennonite near Gladys, two pastors who were Cameron's first cousins once removed, his uncle Merle who brought the message, a brother-in-law who shared family memories, a second cousin who led the music, and his uncle Calvin who was in charge of the burial service.

All of this brought back painful memories of an untimely death in our family just over a year ago, another recently married grandnephew Kendall Yoder.

We met with members of the family yesterday to be of whatever support we could, and today we listened to the service by teleconference. An ensemble made up mostly of Cameron's close relatives sang "I'm Just A Poor Wayfaring Stranger", bravely expressing what we pray can be an anchor for this devastated young family--and for the rest of us who are left behind.

"I know dark clouds
Will gather 'round me 
I know my way
Will be rough and steep
But beautiful fields lie just before me
Where God's redeemed
Their vigils keep"

Here's a link to the YouCaring Fund site:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trending Toward Retirement?

"Six days a week are for are for your daily duties and your regular work, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest before the Lord your God."  
- Exodus 20:9-10 LB

Since limiting my work hours at the Family Life Resource Center to 2 1/2 days a week, I have Mondays and Fridays free to be "retired",  a modern version of "sabbath" providing me more time with wife and family, gardening and a host of other interests.

Meanwhile I'm needing some help figuring out the actual distinctions between work and retirement.

Take Monday, for example. I spent 1 1/2 hours recording 90-second "Centerpiece" radio spots at WMRA/WEMC for the upcoming quarter. Of course, writing them and reading through them in preparation for my studio time involved many additional hours.

But do those hours, or those spent on doing blog entries on which many of the radio spots are based, represent work or are they just a hobby? I've always done them as "a service of the Family Life Resource Center" (the tag line), so it could be thought of as a part of my work, but since I do them gratis, how is this different from the good volunteer work many of my retired friends do all the time?

As an aside, part of what makes the above feel like more fun is working with Matt Bingay, the engineer at the station, a patient professional who generously does all the editing needed, even making a couple of extra CD's each time with 35 spots for use on WBTX and WNLR. He does this on station time, and it represents a small part of WEMC's regular noon programing, but I experience it as some volunteer work he does for me and for FLRC.

On the same day, and here's the best part, I got to do something even more pleasurable. Alma Jean and I went to Charlottesville together for one of her rare medical appointment on that side of the mountain, and for a nice lunch together. A great way to spend part of a day off.

Meanwhile, that meant missing my regular Monday noon meeting with fellow members of the Valley Justice Coalition. Those good folks understand, of course, and went about their good "work" (promoting changes in our criminal justice system) without me. I'm learning more and more about my not being indispensable, which is a good thing for a retiring person. And I can aways look forward to meeting them again at next week's noon gathering at the Dean House. Is involvement with something like the VJC work?

[Speaking of Alma Jean, I also got an email Monday from someone at that meeting who had met her for the first time at last Friday's Gemeinschaft Dinner, as follows:  "I wanted to thank you for introducing me to your wife.  She seems absolutely precious.  I, honestly think that I carried the glow of her kindness and generous spirit for the following 24 hours.  Even though it was quite brief, it was the highlight of the night for me." Now that's just sheer pleasure, a part of her good "work" of kindly and generously serving and blessing whomever she meets!]

At 4 pm Monday I also got to be with some other concerned citizens at an open meeting of the local Community Criminal Justice Board at the County Administration Building. It was encouraging to see significant changes in the CCJB (now meeting quarterly instead of only rarely), under the capable leadership of Board of Supervisors member William Kyger. On Friday we heard more about some progress on issues some of us really care about, like our now having a full time CSB mental health worker at the local jail, about progress being made toward establishing a Drug and Mental Health Court for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, and about future dreams for reducing the number of people in our jails and prisons. This all represents work, but much of it is over and above what is required by the jobs or titles held by concerned citizens and members of the CCJB. Were they working?

At 7 pm on that same day I got to lead the last of a four-session Marriage Maintenance Class at FLRC. While this could be seen as a part of my work, it also marks what may be my last official class I do at the Center, a sign of my trending toward retirement. I did the class free as a part of our agency's 30-year anniversary, and the ten couples in the group contributed a combined total of $400 to the Center. Being with them felt more like  a blessing than "work".

As to the my day job in the middle of the week, if it wouldn't be for some of the paper work associated with it, the actual time spent in my counseling office from Tuesday noon to Thursday evening wouldn't seem much like work. I find counseling sessions almost invariably energizing and rewarding, and and the staff at FLRC are a pleasure to work with.

This work does offer the extra benefit of helping us keep our bills paid, which in turn gives me greater freedom to do some of the other "work" I enjoy.

For example, yesterday I took time to put the finishing touches to the little monthly newsletter we do for our house church. I was then able to go shopping for spring plants and garden seeds, followed by actually planting some of them in our garden. More joy. And a final enjoyment was mowing our lawn and adding to the grass clippings that go on our mulch and compost piles.

As someone who grew up on a farm, I consider all of that good "work".

Maybe Confucius was right, "Choose a job that you love and you won't have to work another day in your life."

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Remembering Dr. Hubert R. Pellman, 1918-2017

1991 EMU photo
We had the privilege of attending Saturday's memorial service at Park View Mennonite for Hubert Pellman, a pastor for many years at the Mt. Vernon Mennonite Church near Grottoes and for many years a professor of English at Eastern Mennonite College (now EMU).

Hubert was widely admired as one of the finest and kindest men one could imagine. He was a second cousin of Alma Jean's, and both grew up along Shade Mountain in rural Juniata County, Pennsylvania.

I came to college with only a GED and a tenth grade education, so I was blessed to have an understanding person like Hubert as my freshman English Composition teacher. He patiently helped me hone my writing skills and to produce  my first ever research paper.

My cousin Paul Nisly, former head of the Messiah College English Department and a colleague and friend of Pellman's, brought an inspiring message at Saturday's service, and I was likewise moved by the following poem written and read by his daughter Carol at Saturday's service.

Wild Carrot

At the end my father passed the time remembering 
the family farm in Graybill Valley-- that’s where he wanted to go, 
for one last visit-- back to Shade Mountain, 

wild forest smell of damp earth, the rocky soil of shale, 
sandstone, limestone, watching for copperheads, hands reaching 
high for handles of the plow.  I remember-- I remember--

he paused, gazing off into the past-- Oh, I forget, he sighed, 
but I was dreaming of our farm, a waking dream, the kind I have now.  
The dreams, they don’t make sense.  They don’t have to, I replied.  

"Oh nothing comes of nothing," he recited after his stroke, 
remembering the classroom and mad King Lear.  
I remember walking with my father in the shadow 

of Shade Mountain, his warning of snakes in the grass.  
“Be careful where you walk”-- then pausing, pulling up a plant, 
the botanist, ready with a lesson.  "Here, smell the root.  

That’s why it's sometimes called Wild Carrot."  Years later 
I look up Daucus Carota, Latin I never learned, that my grandmother knew. 
"Also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, the red flower in the center 

the droplet of blood where she pricked her finger making lace." 
I remember my father’s mother, crocheting lace tablecloths, 
passing the night, her insomnia traveling from her daughters

to me, to my daughters.  When I sat with my father in that thin place 
where this world intersects with the next, in the shadowland 
between wake and sleep, I asked him to let me know the names 

of the flowers, the rivers, the mountains he found, as he traveled
on, asked him to meet me when I'm old and dream of my first home
in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where I learned the litany of wildflowers--

--Anemone, Jack-in- the Pulpit, Solomon's Seal, (True and False)
and the elusive Lady's Slipper, the one we found-- or do I only dream 
this?-- one spring day in the woods of Shade Mountain.

Carol Pellman Mishler

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Come To Dinner! Celebrating 30 Years Of Care

Don't miss FLRC's special event set for Saturday, May 6, to recall thirty years of service to area individuals and families, hear some great music, and enjoy some good food. And the speaker? After nearly three decades with the organization I hope he'll have some good things to say about "Celebrating the 'Family' In Our Agency Name". RSVP ASAP.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Seven Habits Of Effective Marriage-Supporting Congregations

It takes whole congregations to promote whole relationships.
I prepared the following for a workshop at today's "Celebrating Congregational Life" event held at Eastern Mennonite School:

1. Healthy congregations promote celibacy and singleness as respected and worthy options for Christians, in light of Jesus’ and many of his followers’ demonstrations of how one can be an optimally whole and fulfilled person with or without marriage--and in light of New Testament scripture that teaches the primacy of the Kingdom of God family as the focus of one’s highest loyalty and identity. They recognize that mature and Christ-like singles are the best candidates for forming mature and healthy relationships.

2. Children and youth hear frequent life stories of singles, couples, and even of divorced or separated persons in the congregation—in Sunday School classes, youth group and other settings—in order for them to gain wisdom from the real life experiences of others.

3. Pre-engagement counseling and workshops are provided for youth and young adults in serious relationships and before they become officially engaged.

4. Pre-marital counseling is offered for engaged persons, utilizing a premarital inventory. Counseling sessions and/or classes are also provided, along with experienced mentor couples being available for couples at all stages of their relationship. 

5. Couples who experience marital distress are offered counseling to help them learn how to effectively and respectfully disengage from escalating conflicts, rather than simply divorcing their partners. Whenever partners are causing harm to each other, the church offers a means of repair through a Matthew 18 process of recognizing and repenting of the harm being inflicted

6. Frequent Sunday School classes and other workshops or classes are available for marriage enrichment, and good books and other reading material on relationships are recommended and available.

7. Larger congregations provide intergenerational cell groups made up of married and unmarried folks, young and old, who are encouraged to meet in each others homes on a regular basis for fellowship and support.

Here's a link to more posts on strengthening marriage:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

In February, 51 Parole Denials, Zero Grants

Most of the Board's February dispositions involved inmates eligible for geriatric parole, but not one such release was granted.
The list below represents the February denials by the Virginia Parole Board (the latest numbers available). Of the 51 persons up for review (all males designated as either "white" or "black"), none were granted release, not even among the large numbers of people eligible for geriatric parole* This in spite of the fact that among inmates 50 years of age or older the likelihood of re-offending is greatly diminished, while the cost of their care begins to greatly increase. And as you can see from the list below, all but 15 of those eligible for parole are 50 or over.

In many but not all of the cases, the crimes committed are listed on the VPB website with the individual's name, and in the majority of cases the reasons given for the denials are based on the inmate's past criminal history rather than on negative behaviors or rule infractions incurred after incarceration. Unfortunately, the crimes for which inmates were sentenced can never be undone. Individuals can only demonstrate that while in Department of Corrections custody they have learned to behave as responsible citizens in the most challenging environment imaginable. 

The majority of turndowns were based on some combination of the following pre-incarceration factors, as follows:

Release at this time would diminish seriousness of crime (cited in 35 of the cases below)
Serious nature and circumstances of your offense(s). (cited 34 times)
History of violence (10 times)
You need to show a longer period of stable adjustment. (10 times)
Your prior failure(s) and/or convictions while under community supervision indicate that you are unlikely to comply with conditions of release. (6 times)
Extensive criminal record. (10 times)

(Question: Would a school deny graduation to a student based on "the serious nature of their ignorance prior to enrollment"?)

The following justifications for denial are based on the Board's judgment, but with no specifics provided:

You need to show a longer period of stable adjustment. (10 times)
The Board considers you to be a risk to the community. (19 times)
The Board concludes that you should serve more of your sentence prior to release on parole. (10 times)

The following less frequent reasons given for denial do actually have to do with behaviors in prison or on previous parole:

Your prior failure(s) and/or convictions while under community supervision indicate that you are unlikely to comply with conditions of release. (6 times)
Your record of institutional infractions indicates a disregard for rules and that you are not ready to conform to society. (1 time)
Poor institutional adjustment (for example, motivation/attitude, unfavorable reports, lack of program involvement, etc.) (2 times)
You need further participation in institutional work and/or educational programs to indicate your positive progression towards re-entry into society. (4 times)
Your record indicates a serious disregard for the property rights of others. (1 time)
Conviction of a new crime while incarcerated (1 time)

Then there were eight of the persons below who were not released because of "No interest in parole". These men, some of whom have lost all contact with outside family support, have sadly given up ever being able to make it outside of prison. This is heartbreaking.

1.  Stanley, J., 69 Male Black 
2.  Silvestri, J., 77 Male White 
3.  Arrington, R., 48 Male Black 
4.  Maddrey, E., 65 Male Black 
5.  White, T., 53 Male White 
6.  Hakahan, B., 46 Male Black
7.  Griffey, C., 53 Male White 
8.  Bennett, R., 61 Male White
9.  Walker, R., 50 Male Black
10. Christian, M., 56 Male Black 
11. Thinnes, N., 69 Male White
12. Sekou, K., 46 Male Black 
13. Olbera, J., 50 Male White
14. Hinojosa, G., 59 Male White 
15. Albright, R., 54 Male White 
16. Lane, J., 54 Male White 
17. BenYisrael, Y., 46 Male Black
18. Beverley, D., 68 Male White 
19. Harris, O., 60 Male Black 
20. Davis, O., 79 Male Black 
21. Gallahan, S., 61 Male White
22. Caudell, R., 61 Male White 
23. Holley, A., 64 Male Black 
24. Vanfleet, J., 43 Male White
25. Berg, N., 79 Male White
26. Bottoms, E., 72 Male White
27. Hardin, J., 45 Male Black 
28. Mcfalls, R., 47 Male White 
29. White, M., 42 Male Black 
30. Kolb, D., 64 Male White 
31. Davis, S., 62 Male Black Crimes 
32. Derricott, M., 52 Male Black 
33. Wilson, C., 71 Male Black 
34. Brown, J., 50 Male White 
35. Holmes, J., 51 Male Black 
36. Asbury, M., 47 Male White 
37. Walling, Je., 70 Male White 
38. Miller, D., 51 Male White 
39. Bagby, R., 60 Male Black 
40. Pender, S.,43 Male Black 
41. Barnes, B., 53 Male Black
42. Barber, O., 49 Male Black 
43. Cameron, A., 53 Male Black 
44. Gilmore, F., 45 Male Black 
45. Hall, R., 61 Male White 
46. Price, G., 48 Male White 
47. Thorpe, W., 49 Male Black 
48. Harris, C., 72 Male Black 
49. Laws, L., 56 Male Black 
50. Rogers, P., 65 Male Black
51. Brown, C., 22 Male White

Here's a link to contact the Virginia Parole Board and here's one to express your parole concerns to the Governor

*  § 53.1-40.01

Conditional release of geriatric prisoners

Any person serving a sentence imposed upon conviction for a felony offense, other than a Class 1 felony, (i) who has reached the age of sixty-five or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of sixty or older and who has served at least ten years of the sentence imposed may petition the ParoleBoard for conditional release. The Parole Board shall promulgate regulations to implement the provisions of this section.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Gundamentalism Author To Speak At Sunnyside

Here's an invitation by speaker and author Jim Atwood to a presentation he's making at the Sunnyside Retirement Community east of Harrisonburg Tuesday, April 18, in his own words:

I have been involved in gun violence prevention for 42 years. It has been sad to watch thousands of Americans die unnecessarily by firearms over these years. For example, in our war in Iraq, 4500 service men and women were killed. In the same time frame 220,500 Americans were killed on our own streets and homes. They have died because our leaders feel "freedom" and so called "gun rights" are endangered by common sense regulations on guns. As a gun owner and Presbyterian minister myself, I reject such simplistic assumptions.

According to research by Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, most gun owners, even NRA members, agree with me. My second book Gundamentalism and Where It is Taking America addresses the excessive religious and ideological stances of a small but powerful minority of gun owners I call "gundamentalists" who are supported by the corporate gun lobby, They abhor any attempted regulation or restriction on firearms, thinking that it will only lead to the confiscation of their guns. 

I'll be leading a presentation on Gundamentalism and Where It is Taking America at the Bethesda Theater (at Sunnyside Retirement Home) on April 18th at 9:45 a.m. I hope you will be there and bring a friend. I continue to believe as I have for 42 years that gun violence is America's greatest spiritual, ethical and moral problem.
- James E. Atwood

Saturday, April 15, 2017

In Tomahawk And MOAB Terror We Trust

Those who live by inflicting terror will one day perish by it.
A false religion gains adherents by representing immense power, inspiring great awe, promising absolute security, and demanding unquestioning and sacrificial investment.

American militarism is about all four, as epitomized by its two showcase bombings last week. The first was an attack on a Syrian air base by 59 Tomahawk missiles, and the second a first-time-ever use of an 11-ton "Mother Of All Bombs" on an ISIS-occupied tunnel complex in Afghanistan.

Each strike was designed to have as much of a psychological impact as a strategic one. The launch of the Tomahawks, each carrying a half ton of explosives and valued at roughly $1.4 million (multiply that by 59, though only 23 hit their intended target), resulted in a lot of chaos and a few human casualties, but the airfield targeted was again operational within days. But the $16 million MOAB, launched from a large cargo plane, is reported to have killed some 90 ISIS fighters and inflicted untold damage on their hideout (one originally funded in part by the CIA when we were supporting Ben Ladin in his fight against the USSR). I have no idea what it cost to deliver this payload, but over $300 million was invested in the development of this most powerful non-nuclear weapon ever, one we finally got to test-target in Afghanistan.

Most of our current military actions no longer involve the use of soldiers with rifles and bayonets, but the massive deployment of "bombs bursting in air" on targets all over Syria and Iraq, each of them representing unimaginable acts of terror. And just last week, allied forces dropped over 29 ton of explosives on another air base, with far more total TNT than in a single MOAB. In addition, an attack on another target caused the death of 18 Syrian allied forces. The price we are paying and the toll we and others are inflicting are beyond comprehensible.

What most concerns me is not just that the US Commander-in-Chief, who campaigned against more military involvement abroad, now appears to be ever more willing to exercise it on a massive scale. My greater concern is how the media and the American public are so prone to support him in doing so, praising him for finally being presidential by using terror bombing to strike fear into our foes.

These are the kinds of warlike attitudes and actions that could take the world straight toward Armageddon.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A 1964 Parable About Good Friday And Easter

I recently found a link to "Parable", a short film that so moved me when I saw it with some students at Eastern Mennonite High School many years ago. It was produced by the Lutheran Council and was widely viewed at the Protestant Pavilion at the New York World's Fair in1964. 

Directed by Rolf Forsberg, the film was highly controversial at first in that the Christ-figure in it is introduced as a silent, white-robed and chalk-faced clown riding a donkey, quietly trailing an elaborate and noisy circus procession into town. This Christ is then shown moving among the abused members of the circus crew, serving and rescuing them in the oppressed state they in under the rule of Magnus, a puppeteer who strings up human beings as living marionettes and in other ways literally controls their lives. 

The Christ in the Parable (Clarence Mitchell) is then cruelly murdered by Magnus after his circus enterprise is totally disrupted by people finding freedom from his domination. In the end, a repentant Magnus smears his own face with white paint and rides the clown's donkey behind the circus parade as it leaves town. 

Here's a link if you want to view this sometime over Good Friday and Easter:

Monday, April 10, 2017

It's Time To Attend Gemeinschaft's Fundraiser!

For over thirty years Gemeinschaft Home in Harrisonburg has offered invaluable help to ex-offenders transitioning to a new start after having served time in a Virginia prison. If you would like to become acquainted with this program, or if you are already an active supporter, make sure you plan to attend this year's fundraising dinner from 6-8 pm April 21 at the Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg. The meal is provided, but your generous tax-deductible donation is expected. Doors open at 5:30 for Gemeinschaft's best ever silent auction (above).

The keynote speaker for the evening is Tecora Johnson of the Western District of Virginia's Department of Corrections, and two ex-offenders will share their inspiring stories.

Please call 434-1690 by April 14 to register, or scroll down to "Contact us" at and leave a message. 

Gemeinschaft needs your help. Please come and invite your friends!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

HARD TIME VIRGINIA, Volume 2, Number 2

While Lady Justice still reigns...
Two More Parole Eligible Inmates Die At Buckingham
On April 4, 2017, Eugene Robert Parson, age 69, died of cancer at Buckingham Correctional Center. Rumor has it that he did not have an emergency contact listed for the hospital to perform a life or death surgery, so they allowed him to die without performing the surgery. 
     Eugene was an example of someone who had tried hard to demonstrate that he was capable of being a good citizen, but who was never offered the opportunity to be paroled and given a second chance.  
     On the following day Timothy George White, Jr, died between 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. of an apparent heart attack at age 49. When two officers came to his cell at count time, they found him unresponsive. He also had many criminal charges but for years had been a model prisoner. 

Virginia Inmates To Receive Only Photocopies Of Their Mail
Effective April 22, all mail for Virginia prisoners mail will be copied and given to the inmate in black and white, while the original content, including the envelope, will be shredded. This is likely to have a huge negative effect on the morale of inmates, who will be denied having irreplaceable keepsakes like original letters, pictures, cards from family, friends, children and loved ones.
     Taxpayer dollars are allocated for training and use of drug-sniffing dogs at every Virginia state prison facility. 

Jail Sued Over Inmate Not Getting Her Meds
A Virginia jail inmate suffered a fatal stroke in her cell after jail employees failed to give her the stroke-prevention medications she had been prescribed after open-heart surgery, according to a lawsuit early this year.
     Jaimee Kirkwood Reese, 32, died in a hospital upon suffering a stroke in her cell at Northern Neck Regional Jail in March of 2016. The lawsuit, filed a year later in Richmond, said more than 11 hours elapsed before Reese was admitted to the hospital, at which time she was already brain-dead. The suit said that instead of being taken to the hospital immediately, Reese was taken by stretcher to a cell for medical observation.

421 Virginia Inmates Deserve A Retrial
On June 9, 2000, the Virginia Appellate Court ruled in favor of defendant Richard Fishback v. Commonwealth for a new sentence, based on Fishback's judge not having instructed jurors that parole had been abolished, thus likely affecting their decisions regarding the length of his sentence.
     Sixteen years later, 421 Virginia defendants incarcerated under similar circumstances still await the opportunity for a new hearing, just as Richard Fishback received.
Another Poem By A 70-Year-Old Blind Inmate
"Southside State Farm"
Minor Junior Smith
I ran into my fellow inmates on the Southside State Farm's long hallway.
They were moving about, as though they were on a very crooked highway.
I became bewildered and interested as I crossed its second-floor lane.
I saw one convict in dark glasses, limping, and swinging a guide-cane.

It was near dinner time, so I hurried along, not wanting to be late.
A friendly offender helped me to find my bunk near the back of D-8.
I landed a job in book-binding and was folding covers just fine.
Within two weeks, the legally-blind man's cell was right next door to mine.

He had my attention, so I introduced myself to the college student, Ray.
I was glad when I had because he had helpful information to convey.
With a recorder, he was enrolled in a college course through The Hadley School.
I soon learned that I could use an abacus slate as a mathematical tool.

In Waynesboro, VA, Ray had been in car business with an unfaithful wife.
After murdering her, he had shot through an optic nerve then sentenced to life.
I took Ray to be a man of intelligence and also found him to be quite wise.
We were transported to MCV, so that a doctor could examine our eyes.

That doctor laughed at my glasses from Southhill, as if they looked funny.
He informed me that the other doctor had merely been after easy state money.
Ray and I could read newspapers with hand-held 7-powered magnifying glasses.
Some mornings, we listened to talking-books in school but never attended classes.

I received word that my sister, Rena, had been shot before she went insane.
At nights, thoughts of that and Mother's death caused emotional strain.
During meals, we handicapped guys always found our seats reserved.
Sometimes, I felt like my incarceration was what I rightly deserved.

One Sunday, dad and my step-mother visited me, but we did not discuss my crime.
They left knowing that I would visit them after I had served my time.
Outside the visiting room that day, I had unpleasant memories of mom.
Upon reaching Southside's main hallway, I ran smack-dab into Tom.

He had been apprehended in Georgia, having stolen clothes from a line.
He and I, having escaped together, could have picked oranges in Florida, had been a secret idea of mine.

I felt compassionate towards the disabled veteran, Ray, who might never be free.
I wonder whether I would have committed crimes had mom not abused me.
Around Christmas of 1970, a counselor for the blind brought me a guide-cane.
A sergeant told me that I did not need "that stick" to get in out of the rain.

For some residents in prison, it was strange to see a totally-blind man.
Mr. Self consulted with me, and he helped me to establish a parole plan.
One evening, Ray advised me to apply for a Social-Security Check.
I received over $1,700.00; then I never minded being called a Red Neck.

My new Beatle hair style made it a lot easier for me to use a comb.
I wrote to Ms. Dotson, who invited me to room and board at her home.
Ray and I liked to play all kinds of card games and usually stayed up late.
We crossed the cell-block to play Hearts, Spades, and even Crazy-8.

One of our opponents knew my dad and spoke of places I could remember.
I was proud to hear that dad had paid Mr. Job for all of his timber.
By March of 1971, I owned a recorder and typewriter but could not type well.  
Granted parole thereafter, I shook hands with Ray and left him at his cell.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

How's Your Skin Today--Thin, Velcro Or Teflon?

Our human skin marks the protective boundary between us and the outside world. In a figurative sense, we sometimes speak of folks being "thin-skinned," or of their allowing other people or experiences to "get under their skin."

Some of us may find ourselves especially sensitive to other's words or actions. In other words, our skin, metaphorically speaking, may be more like velcro than teflon.

Velcro is a product that was created by Swiss engineer George de Mestral back in 1941 after he observed how the burrs of certain plants stuck to his clothing and to the tangled fur of his dog's hair. 
The clothing and the fur, he noted, represented a set of loops to which the tiny hooks in the plant burrs readily attached and held on to. 

Whether folks collect a lot of these while walking by some burdock plants, for example, depends not so much on how many are in their path, but by the material in the clothing their wearing. Thus if one were wearing something like a raincoat instead of a wool coat, nothing would stick.

So what if the surface of our skin, figuratively speaking, were more like smooth teflon rather than the loop side of a velcro surface?

This reminds me of the illustration used in the Bible about our being equipped with the "whole armor of God" as a means of deflecting whatever malevolent darts we encounter. 

The helmet, shield and other parts of that "armor" are just figures of speech, of course, not actual coats of teflon, but can we, by faith, picture ourselves as being less vulnerable to what others aim our way?

I think so.

Monday, April 3, 2017

"He Exhaled Love"--Ernest E. Yoder 1925-2017

Ernest Yoder 1925-2017
My oldest brother-in-law, Ernest Yoder, a giant of a good man, passed away peacefully at age 92 at his home in Campbell County on Tuesday, March 28. Hundreds of friends, family and members of his church family gathered to celebrate his life this Saturday at the Bethel Mennonite Church near Rustburg.

I learned to know and love Ernest soon after we moved to Stuarts Draft, Virginia, when I was six-year-old. There he began to date and later married my oldest sister Lovina, who preceded him in death just over a year ago. He was a faithful father and husband, an active song leader and a promoter of good music in his church, and a hard working business man and farmer, somewhat in that order.

In 1964 he was involved in a tragic accident in which another vehicle caused a head-on collision in which both that driver and the driver of he truck in which Ernest was a passenger were killed. Alva Yoder, my cousin, and a close friend of Ernest, was fatally burned, and while Ernest was evicted from the truck and survived, he suffered from the effects of the accident for the rest of his life.

During a time of sharing memories after the funeral service and meal, one person described him well as "cheerful, welcoming, funny, a tease and as someone who loved to tell stories". In addition to taking a personal interest in each of his seven children, 30 grandchildren, 90 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great-grandchildren, he also had many "adopted" grandchildren in his church family who loved him as a granddaddy. Even after he lost most of his sight, he could recognize people by their voices, and never failed to offer an encouraging word.

Charlotte Nissley Freed from Ernest's congregation, who had fond memories of Ernest as an "adopted grandfather" when she young, wrote the following upon hearing of his death:


His strong frame stood
A gentle giant,

Arms spread like great branches
Welcoming children and wife
Grandchildren, church.
He stood like an umbrella
Over us.
He adopted us.
He would follow his wife
To the doors after church,
Feet stepping carefully
Always listening
To guess who spoke;
And he would smile broadly
When he knew it was I.

He must have had 
A hundred grandchildren
But in his crinkled squint
Each felt so special. Chosen.

He exhaled love
And the kind of dignity 
That sends a happy hush
To my soul.
Then his great branches would 
Gather me in 
With an approving smile.

Our oak has not fallen.
He is transplanted!
Carried by great wings
To the Father of our fathers;
To Jesus's outstretched arms.
spreads out his arms now
To family gone before,
And he walks with sure feet
By the river of life.

With much love,
Charlotte Nissley Freed

Here's a link to a video about him narrated by grandson Lowell Yoder:

And here's something I posted about my dear sister Lovina just over a year ago:

and a video of her grandson Lowell's memories of her

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Local EMS Student's Essay Wins MCC Prize

EMS photo
Isabella Madrid, a ninth grade immigrant at Eastern Mennonite School, was awarded the grand prize of $1,000 in a recent essay contest sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. Washington Office.

Here is an abbreviated version of what she wrote, which she titled “Love Your Neighbor”:

My mother immigrated to the United States from Honduras. The reasons she came are similar to the reasons most people from Central America migrate to the US. First of all, my father and the rest of her family were already living here. Most of my mom’s siblings left Honduras one by one, to find better work. They didn't want to be stuck tending to my grandparents’ farm. Even my grandma and grandpa eventually made the decision to move so they could get new jobs. 

My dad’s dream was to save money for buying a house in Honduras, but it wasn't possible with the insufficient amount of money he was being paid at his job. There were simply no good-paying jobs. So, my parents made the decision of sending my dad over to the US to find a job that payed him well. His plan was to work and save money for four years, then return to Honduras so he could buy my family a house. 

These plans were quickly dissolved when my mother told him to stay in the US because life was becoming more dangerous in Honduras and jobs were still paying low wages. Honduras became the country with the highest rate of murder. “You couldn't walk through the streets without getting robbed or jumped. Poverty was seen everywhere,” my mother recounts. She was sure the right decision was to move to the US. She quit her teaching job, packed her bags, left for the US with my older brother, and reunited with my dad and her family. She was drawn by the education her child and future children would get to receive, and the promise of a safe environment to raise them in. 

National data shows that people migrate for various reasons, such as escaping violence, poverty, persecution, natural disasters, reuniting with family, etc. My mother is one of many who migrate for new job opportunities, escaping violence, a better education for their children, and to reunite with their families.

A lot of people fleeing their countries cannot get humanitarian protection. The United States sets a limit each year of how many people can be admitted as refugees for humanitarian reasons. In order for this to happen, the person has to be screened by many US and international agencies and prove that they have a good reason to fear persecution in their country based on religion, race, political views, social group, and national origin. Asylum seekers are people that are already in the US and fear returning to their countries. They must prove that they have the requirements to be a refugee. Immigrants who live in poverty or have difficult economic conditions in their home country do not qualify as refugees or asylees in the US.

…Many immigrants come illegally just to work and send money home and return to their families. There should be a system implemented that allows them to migrate legally and temporarily in order to work, then be able to return home to their families with no hassle. The government should pay more attention to the unaccompanied alien children who enter the US every year, and provide a way for them to live here and go to schools. Those kids had to suffer a lot to try to get here, and they didn’t come for no reason. Many of them end up getting deported, but they continue to try multiple times because that's how miserable life in their home country is.

The government should address root causes of immigration by finding foreign policy solutions and trade agreements that provide better paying jobs and security in the home countries of migrants. They should reorient the focus of their foreign assistance programs on helping poor Central American countries, more than they have done in the past. If they somehow eliminate corruption in the government, put an end to drug trafficking, and close the wage gap, it will reduce illegal immigration immensely. 

…We as Christians should know what our duty to immigrants and all sorts of newcomers is. Matthew 25: 35-36 says this: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” 

Immigrants and refugees are also people Jesus died for on the cross. We must show compassion for those who risk their lives to cross a border and leave their families behind. You may think you know them, but you don't know their story. 

This is what Jesus wants us to do. Love your neighbor, and make them feel welcome.