Sunday, May 28, 2017

Where Have All The Dissatisfied Mennos Gone?

How can we maintain the "unity 
of the Spirit" while striving for 
Biblically-based "unity of the faith"?
"We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life."
Article 19, Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective

"As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service."

In response to the ongoing controversy within Mennonite Church USA regarding same sex marriage (unions MCUSA does not officially support), there has been a significant exodus of folks from our local Virginia Conference congregations. In spite of how strongly they may feel about Article 22 of their Mennonite Confession (second quote, above), they feel the denomination has not taken sufficient action in support of the first quote (above) from article 19. Thus some have felt the need to take their membership elsewhere.

I intend no disrespect in listing the following good local congregations with whom some of those have affiliated. I have great appreciation for the witness of those churches, for their statements of faith, for their pastors and church leaders, and for the good work in which they are engaged.

Here are four of them, along with some of their theological stands, taken from their websites:

1. First Church of the Nazarene (affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene denomination)
"We have our roots in the Methodist tradition that grew out of John Wesley’s revival movement in the 1700’s. We have good fellowship with our United Methodist 'cousins', but we are organizationally separate for historical reasons." (More on the church's beliefs, reflecting a Wesleyan and Arminian theology, can be found at

2. Covenant Presbyterian Church (a part of the Presbyterian Church in America)
"The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is an evangelical Protestant Christian denomination in the Reformed tradition. It is the second largest Presbyterian church body in the United States and the largest conservative Reformed church in North America and the English speaking world. The PCA is Evangelical in practice, Reformed in theology, Presbyterian in governance and missional minded.
"The constitution of the PCA, which is under the authority of the inerrant Word of God, consists of its doctrinal standards set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order."

3. Church of the Incarnation (a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion)
"Church of the Incarnation is part of an international network of churches known as the Anglican Communion. This network grew out of the missionary expansion of the Church of England over the past 500 years. It now consists of 38 self-governing provinces around the world in 164 countries with tens of millions of members. In many places, particularly throughout the Global South, the churches of the Anglican Communion are known for their vibrant faith in God and transformational presence within their communities. We enjoy and benefit from our vital connection to the worldwide Anglican Communion through our membership in the Anglican Province of Rwanda. 

"Our core beliefs are summarized in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. As Anglican Christians, our faith also conforms to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion."

4. New Beginnings Church (interdenominational, but with former ties to Virginia Mennonite Conference, MCUSA)
New Beginnings has an extensive 24-point description of the church's  beliefs on its website. Included are the following: 
"We believe that marriage is a life long covenant between one man and one woman, that God created human beings as male and female and intended for the expression of sexual intimacies to be fully consummated only within the heterosexual marriage relationship." 
"We believe that peace is the will of God. God created the world in peace, and God’s peace is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, who is our peace and the peace of the whole world. Led by the Holy Spirit, we seek to follow Christ in the way of peace, doing justice, and bringing reconciliation."

The above represent only a sample of some of the fine churches local dissatisfied Mennonites have joined. These active and growing congregations represent a variety of beliefs about baptism, free will, support for state sanctioned violence, and other elements of belief and practice. Some are more complementary to Anabaptist theology than others, but all affirm traditional views of marriage consistent with Article 19 of the Mennonite Confession:

"We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life."

It should be noted, however, that none of them affirms the statement of belief that was a foundational part of Christian faith and practice in the first several centuries of church history, and an integral part of the witness of a 500-year Anabaptist tradition, as stated in Article 22:

"As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service."

For more on ancient Christian teaching on followers of Jesus not taking part in war, link to

Friday, May 26, 2017

When Manchester Was Bombed To Rubble

Manchester was devastated by German air raids in WWII
The whole world mourned the tragic loss of life in a suicide bombing at a concert in Manchester, England, this past week, but that was far from the first, or the worst, of what that city has endured.

Some 77 years earlier, Manchester suffered multiple devastating attacks by Nazi war planes that killed nearly 700 people and injured over 2000 in two nights of raids alone, just before Christmas of 1940, according to an article in Wikipedia"On the night of 22/23 December, 270 aircraft dropped 272 tons of high explosive and 1,032 incendiary bombs; on the second night, 171 aircraft dropped another 195 tons of high explosive and 893 incendiaries."

Targeted air raids, new in those days, have become the terror tactics of choice for combatants that can afford them. Other fighters may deliver their bombs by more primitive means, often in retaliation for devastating air raids that have destroyed their people, .

But the horror and the devastation inflicted are the same, no matter how today's powerful explosives are delivered or what the motives are behind their use. All bombing is unbelievably barbaric and terrifying.

When it comes to perpetrating this kind of terror, there is more than enough guilt to go around, but the US, the only nation in history to unleash nuclear weapons, has become known as the chief offender.

Just this past week the Independent published a report in which the Pentagon acknowledges that 105 civilians were killed in a single US raid in Mosul in March. While our Air Force may not deliberately target civilians as do terror groups like ISIS, the use of this means of warfare inevitably results in large amounts of so-called "collateral damage".

I am saddened by the fact that the US seems ever more bent on simply murdering extremists who are labeled as "terrorists" and "killers", without addressing the factors that produce the growing number of these "terrorists" who are bent on destroying us at whatever cost.

We have yet to learn that violence, in whatever form, inevitably results in setting off an unending crescendo of more and more of the same.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Contest Entry Updates (Will Add Until June 14)

See preceding post for contest details, then add your creative entries as comments, below, or send them via email to and I'll add them to the list. Thanks!

Here's what we have to date:

1. Give a tithe of what you have in your savings account.

2. Match what you and your household spend annually on eating out.

3. Save the equivalent of a month's rent or mortgage payment to help provide refugee housing.

4. Every time someone in the family has a five dollar bill on them from now until September, put it in a jar.

5. Have a fundraiser yard sale or sell things online, stating what the funds will go to. People are more likely to buy knowing their money is going to a good cause.

6. Grow a "giving garden". Sell the produce at a farmer's market or online. All proceeds to be donated.

7. A thank you gift of $10 for each year of life you have been given, to give a better chance at life for desperate people MCC is working valiantly to serve.

8. Five Dollar Friday: Every Friday between now and the MCC Relief Sale add $5 to a jar, bank, or box. This may feel like an "easy" contribution to make that you might not feel so much. Then at the relief sale you can add to this cash gift. 

9. Buy a bag of coffee beans from an MCC fair trade shop, then brew your own morning coffee instead of buying a coffee every work-day morning.  (The daily savings add up quickly!)

10. Eat more homemade meals, spending family time cooking, eating and cleaning up together.  Give the price of a family meal out to MCC each month.  

11. Sell something you have in your garage or attic that you really don't use any longer.  Give that money to MCC.

12. Take on a lawn mowing job of pay, and donate that time and money to MCC.

13. Involve your children. For example, encourage them to tithe and/or give money earned through mowing lawns, planting and harvesting garden and farm crops, doing car washes, etc.

Note: While the S.O.S.Giving Campaign is officially endorsed by the Virginia Relief Sale Board, this 'contest' to generate additional participation is purely my own.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Harvspot 'Contest' To Boost Relief Sale Income

Everyone in the world should visit this site (Photo by UNHCR)
Some of us have dreamed of doubling this fall's Virginia MCC Relief Sale income for emergency war and famine refugee aid by encouraging attendees to be prepared to give generous cash, check, or credit card donations in addition to their participation in auction and food sales. We feel the extraordinary refugee needs we see in the world today call for an extraordinary response.

The Virginia Relief Sale Board has officially endorsed this initiative and is actively supporting an S.O.S. (Sharing our Surplus) Campaign to promote this between now and the September 29-30 event.

With some 10,000 relatively well-to-do people attending the Sale, most of whom do not participate in the auction, it should be possible to raise thousands in extra revenue by having a table set up for the sole purpose of accepting and receipting cash contributions from attendees--in addition to their auction and other spending.

In the interest of promoting this, I'm announcing a "contest" to gather creative ideas for how individuals and households could prepare to make sacrificial Relief Sale donations--over and above their regular giving--either on the day of the sale, on the Virginia Relief Sale website, or if preferred, directly to the Mennonite Central Committee website.

Examples of ideas to boost cash giving:

1. Prepare to give a tithe of what you have in your savings account.

2. Match what you and your household spends annually on eating out.

3. Save the equivalent of a month's rent or mortgage payment to help provide refugee housing.

4. Your (prize winning!) submission(s).

Please post your creative suggestions as comments below, message them to me on Facebook, or send them to me via email. I will present these to our group at our next meeting June 14.

"Prizes" (funded by private sources) will be awarded as follows:

First Prize: A $250 S.O.S. gift in your name.
Second Prize: A $150 gift in your name.
Third Prize: A $100 gift in your name.

Please share this via social media, emails and/or word of mouth.

Note: While the S.O.S.Giving Campaign is officially endorsed by the Virginia Relief Sale Board, this 'contest' to generate additional participation in it is purely my own.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How Chastity Would Ruin The US Economy

Our overconsumption is also ruining us.
One of our problems in America is that we have an enormous capacity for producing goods, but a limited number of people to buy them. So we’ve developed a huge advertising industry aimed at persuading people to buy more and more of what they don’t need and can’t afford.

Years ago, Christopher Decker, in an article in the Wall Street Journal called “Selling Desire, Why Chastity is Bad for Business," notes that there was a time when advertising emphasized thrift, durability, and economy. Choices were usually made around how good a product was and how long it would last.  

But a consumer society has to reverse these values, he says, because if advertising is to succeed and business thrive, people have to be convinced that desires alone are sufficient reasons to buy something and that all of our passions are to be indulged now, rather than denied or postponed. So the very notion of chastity has to go, he says, because that represents a mindset that is opposite from a throw away consumer culture that urges us to get out our Visa cards and to buy and use stuff with abandonment, and then simply discard it for whatever we like even better.

According to Dr. Sut Jhally of the University of Massachusetts, the right question to ask about how a given commercial affects us is not how much it influences whether we buy that particular product, but how advertising as a whole affects our buying into a whole different set of values that are counter to the ones we profess to believe. Modern advertising promotes a magical way of thinking, he says, making fantastic promises about what certain products will do for us, like offer us incredible happiness, gain the gloating admiration of all kinds of desirable people, and transform us into an instant, spectacular success. Consumerism promises all, and as such becomes a kind of religion that replaces the faith we actually claim to live by.

We need to teach ourselves and our children to talk back to the blatantly false messages we’re all hearing on television and other media every day. Or better yet, just unplug ourselves from the barrage of untruths we're being bombarded with and read or tell them some good messages of our own.   

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Guest Post: Let's Support Local Poultry Workers

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1. President of Faith in Action, Jennifer Davis-Sensenig, with poultry workers at Faith In Action celebration.  2. Kim Bobo with her book on wage theft.  3. Labor organizer in the Kurdish and Iraqi community of Harrisonburg.

Because You Care about Justice for the Poultry Workers

You are invited to join Kim Bobo and the poultry workers movement for an evening of dialogue and coalition building.

The founder of Interfaith Worker Justice and the current Director of the Interfaith Center for Public Policy in Richmond, Kim Bobo, will be meeting with local poultry workers and their religious and community allies  
on Monday night, May 22nd, at 7:00 PM, at Community Mennonite Church.  

This will be an informal opportunity to hear an update from the poultry workers on the progress of their movement to unionize the poultry workers of the Shenandoah Valley and to meet with Kim Bobo who played an historic role in developing church labor coalitions, especially with poultry workers, in her past position as Director of Interfaith Worker Justice.  

This is a great opportunity to hear an update from the poultry workers movement and to meet and dialogue with the workers and  KIm Bobo.   

Come and help build a broader, stronger and deeper, interfaith and multiracial, coalition for justice for the poultry workers in the Shenandoah Valley and across Virginia.

                                                                                                                                                              Michael Snell-Feikema

For More Information Contact: Michael Snell-Feikema, 540-830-1431or

Saturday, May 20, 2017

It's Time We Rethink Our "White Race" Label

Here's help for some self-examination.
"God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable." 
Acts 10:34-35 (ESV)

I'm in the middle of an eye-opening book by Debby Irving on racism, one recommended recently by some folks in our local Faith in Action group.

As something of a history buff, I was especially interested in learning more about our nation's attitudes and actions toward native Americans, African slaves, imported Asian workers, and even Irish and other immigrants who were not considered as "white" as those in the majority.

Among the atrocities highlighted in the book are the ruthless killings of native Americans and the destruction of their land and way of life, all justified by the blatantly racist philosophy of Manifest Destiny. To add insult to injury, there was the practice of having hundreds of native American children forced to be in boarding schools where they were denied contact with their families and punished for speaking to each other in their native languages.

Then there are countless examples in the book of the mistreatment of African Americans, beginning with their enslavement and continuing through the kinds of indignities perpetuated before, during and after the Jim Crow era. I had also not been aware of how African American veterans were systematically denied the same educational and housing opportunities through the post World War II GI Bill as were other servicemen and women.

Being white, Irving points out, has long been associated with being inherently superior, and being "colored" means being somehow less refined and less worthy, somewhat based on the assumption that white is the absence of color, and black is produced by the blending of all colors.

But one obvious point Irving doesn't address is that none of us who are classified as white are even close to actually being colorless. Far from representing the kind of "white" in the title page of her book (above), we  who call ourselves "whites" are not even remotely that, but reflect varied shades of tan, rust, pink and other pale-ish and pastel skin tones. Nor are African-Americans purely "black", but interesting and varied shades of brown, dark tan and charcoal. And as Irving's book points out, there is actually more variability within current racial groups than there are between the so-called "races".

Maybe its way past time for us all to see ourselves as "people of color", and to celebrate that as a wonderfully good and blessed thing. And to forever affirm the fact that "God has made all humanity on earth of one blood" (Acts 17:6).
Norman Rockwell's The Golden Rule
Here's a link to another piece questioning our use of race as a category. Should we instead use labels like "Western European Economically Privileged" or "Non-European Economically Disadvantaged"?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

My 24 Hours In The Rockingham County Jail

The old jail, housing some 70 people, met our community's
needs until 1995, when a new one designed for 225 was built
on Liberty Street. That one now houses some 350 inmates,
with over 100 more men and women at the Middle River Jail.
(photo courtesy Rockingham Sheriff''s Department)
Yes, back in 1964 I spent some time behind bars at the old Rockingham County Jail on 60 Graham Street (now the parking area for the Court Square Theater).
Fortunately, it was a short sentence of only 24-hours, and it was one I voluntarily chose as a senior at Eastern Mennonite College (now EMU).

In my last two years in college I visited the jail regularly, along with some fellow students involved in a ministry to the 60-70 men and women housed there. We enjoyed developing whatever good relationships possible given the limitation of having to communicate through a narrow opening in the steel doors and bars separating us from those inside.

In the interest of getting a little better feel of what it was like to live in a steel and concrete cage, I asked then sheriff A. L. Strawderman for permission to spend a part of a weekend there. After taking some time to think it over he graciously agreed.

Thus on a Saturday afternoon I was given a faded and ill fitting jail outfit to wear and locked in with about a dozen other men in a cell designed for sixteen. Most of them were not strangers to me, since we were already acquainted through our weekly visits.

A few men in my cell were newcomers, however, and suspected I was some kind of stool pigeon out to get some information regarding someone's case. I became aware of this in the middle of the night when I overheard them discussing their strange visitor, thinking I was sound asleep on the thin mattress between me and a steel upper bunk attached to the wall. Fortunately, some who knew me came to my defense, insisting I was someone they could trust.

Overall, aside from the hard bed and the less than stellar food, it really wasn't a terrible experience. I even learned to play chess there, and one of the inmates insisted on giving me his own simply carved set of chess pieces he had gotten in Germany while in the service, a memory I have always treasured.

I realized from the first, of course, that there was no way I could really experience anything of what my friends inside were dealing with. I knew I was getting out within a day, and that there would be no stigma attached to my having spent a night behind bars.

But the experience did make a big impact on my life, adding to a lifelong interest in prisons and in criminal justice issues, in the spirit of the text, "Remember those in prison as though you were in bonds with them, and those who are afflicted as though your yourself were suffering."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Some Great Saints Come In Small Packages--Rachel Stoltzfus, 11/5/25--5/13/17

Rachel with daughter Debbie, with whom she
lived in Bethesda, Maryland
On the Saturday just before Mother's Day Rachel Stoltzfus, 91, died peacefully at the Rockingham Memorial Hospital in Harrisonburg, the community she and her late husband Robert had chosen to spend their last years together. On Friday she had become very ill and was admitted to RMH while with her son and daughter-in-law west of town, David and Twila Stoltzfus.

For years Rachel and Robert had lived in a modest home on the corner of Two Penny Drive and Mt. Clinton Pike, where she continued to live after his passing until she moved to Bethesda, Maryland, four years ago. There her home was with her daughter and son-in-law, Debbie and Gonzalo Accame.

I had the privilege of being Rachel's pastor, and along with everyone in our Family of Hope house church grew to deeply love and appreciate her during the many years she was a part of our close-knit congregation. She frequently hosted our church meetings in her home, and was hospitable to scores if not hundreds of international students attending EMU during the years she and her husband lived near the campus. After he died she continued that ministry on her own.

This July 4 her family and her church family will be hosting a celebration of her life at the River of Life Church on Blackberry Lane just off Mt. Clinton Pike. Rachel and Robert had been an active part of the New Covenant Mennonite Fellowship which built that meeting house where the her memorial service will be held.

At that service we will share our fond memories of this remarkable saint, and would welcome your joining us to do so, and/or you may feel free to write some of your reflections as comments below.

We will provide more details about the service as they are available.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

If Someone Like #1036758 Isn't Parole-able, Is Our "Department of Corrections" A Failure?

Charles Zellers (right) is a tireless advocate for prison reform.
Mr. Charles Zellers, Sr., entered a plea agreement for a crime he was charged with in 1993 with the assurance that if he did well in prison he could possibly be out on parole in seven years. Yet in spite of his near perfect prison record he has been denied parole repeatedly, but is up for another parole hearing later this month. 

If someone like Zellers, a prime example of the kind of rehabilitation the DOC is designed to bring about, is not considered parole eligible, how can we believe our Department of Corrections actually "corrects"?

Here is a letter he wrote recently to the Parole Board:

Virginia Parole Board
Adrianne Bennett, Chair
6900 Atmore Drive
Richmond, Virginia 23944

May 1, 2017

Charles E. Zellers, Sr., #1036758
Buckingham Correctional Center
Post Office Box 430
Dillwyn, Virginia 23936

To all Parole Board Members :

I hope this letter finds you in the best of health. 

I spoke with Ms. Bennett when she visited Buckingham Correctional Center's Sheet Metal Shop with Lieutenant Ruby Call. Ms. Trudy Harris and she walked through the Shop talking with parole-eligible workers. 

We still reminisce about how they were both shocked to learn that offenders who had committed violent crimes were employed at Virginia Correctional Enterprises where they are allowed to use computers, machinery and tools. Because they have long-term prison sentences, these prisoners are VCE's main workers. The short-timers do not take their jobs as seriously because they know they will be returning to society soon. 

This is why it is important that Board members should contact Correctional Officers, Staff and VCE Supervisors when applicable. They know more about us parole-eligible offenders' characters because they are the ones who interact with us on a day-to-day basis, not the higher ranking officials above Sergeants. We rarely see them. 

I have been employed by Virginia Correctional Enterprises, Buckingham Sheet Metal Shop, since October 2006 and have been a Lead-man since January 2007.Please view my criminal history and you will see that I am not a career criminal, nor do I have a criminal mindset.

Following a 4/7/2017 Good Time Level and Administrative Review by Institutional Classification Authority, George M. Walker recommended that I remain in Class Level 3-L1 with 100 points due to my Full Annual Treatment compliance. This is currently the lowest security level that I can be housed at based on my sentence per DOC policy. Also, the 2017 COMPAS test that was administered by my case manager reveals that I am a low risk for violence or recidivism.

Despite the many factors that make prison an ineffective setting for rehabilitation, I have adapted, overcome and achieved my ultimate goal: to prepare myself for a successful reentry into society.

Unlike the majority of the prison population, lifers like me are statistically less likely to reoffend. Studies have shown that people age out of crime and individuals age forty and older pose a very low risk of committing new crimes. I've even noticed myself during my sentence that once an inmate has served ten consecutive years, they start to settle down. If one has served twenty years or more productive years in prison, then chances are they will be the same upon release as long as they have housing and a job if needed.

As you already know, I've been incarcerated since January 24, 1993. I am not writing you to plead my case today but to ask that you find me suitable to return to my loved ones in society.

I have always tried to do what was right and just during my incarceration, and I will continue to do so upon release. I have been eligible for release on discretionary parole since July 30, 2005.

Please see me for who I am today and not who I was said to be over two decades ago. Look for what I've done to grow from behind bars to prepare for my successful reentry. I haven't had a rule violation since March 2000.

I'm a son, brother; father, grandfather - and I hurt, feel, love and bleed, just like everyone else. I'm pleading with you for forgiveness and for another chance at freedom. To be remembered for something good in my life is very important to me and is one of my main goals. I'm not exactly sure what I will be doing upon release, but rest assured it will be positive for me, my family, and the community in which I will be living. I am leaning towards starting my own business and I see myself helping the elderly in the community that I will be living in.

I have demonstrated that I'm not a danger to public safety, and I'm genuinely remorseful for my role in the loss of a human life.

I will also be attending religious services once I'm released and find the appropriate church to attend. Fellowship with my Christian brothers will be another important goal I set out to achieve upon my release.

If you would like more information about me, please meet with me and/or contact the following people who interact with me often.

My Mother - Mrs. Judy M. Zellers, (434) 676-8094
Note: My mother is in bad health and urgently requires my assistance at home. On May 18th, her cardiologist wants to stop her heart and restart it to reset the rhythm.

My Sister - Cynthia "Zellers" Settle, (434) 676-8094

My Friend/Mentor - Pastor and Licensed Counselor - Mr. Harvey Yoder. (540) 432-0531
Note: We have been interacting via email, letters and phone for several years.

VCE Supervisor - Mr. John Herndon
Note: I've been working for him since October 2006.

VCE Secretary - Mrs. Julia Ragland, (434) 983-4473
Note: I've been working for her since 2010.

If by chance you do not see me as a suitable candidate to be granted parole release this year, even though VDOC deems that I have completed full annual compliance of my treatment, please list what goals I should complete prior to me being seen by the parole examiner next year.

Thank you for your time, efforts and all consideration. If you require more information, please contact me. I give you my word that I will not let you, my loved ones or myself down.

Respectfully requested,

Charles E. Zellers, Sr.

P.S. For your information, I'm also considered Chronic Care Medical.

For more links associated with Mr. Zellers see

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Doubling Our 2017 MCC Relief Sale Income

Imagine having families living like this for years on end.

Last year’s Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale at the Rockingham Fairgrounds raised its second highest amount ever for Mennonite Central Committee, over a third of a million dollars. Much of it went for desperately needed help for the world’s growing refugee crisis.

This year the Relief Sale Board, in response to people interested in new ways of adding to the total giving, is promoting an "S.O.S (Sharing Our Surplus) Campaign”, an attempt to double the amount raised this September by encouraging generous cash, check and credit card giving in addition to supporting the auction and the sale of food and other items. A special table will be set up Friday evening, September 29, and all day Saturday, September 30, to receive such donations for MCC war and famine refugee relief, in addition to the "My Coins Count" project (formerly Penny Power).

With some 10,000 attending the relief sale each year, it should be possible to raise $1 million annually for humanitarian crises of this kind.

When MCC was founded in 1920 in response to suffering caused by famine and war in the Ukraine, over $1.2 million was raised over a three year period. In today’s dollars that would be some $16.7 million, a significant accomplishment.

In the spirit of Jubilee, our giving can be over and above our regular tithes and offerings, and not result in decreased giving elsewhere. This could mean our willingly becoming poorer for Christ’s sake, rather than assuming the right to amass ever more personal wealth each year regardless of world need. 

Such “sacrifices” could include:

• Giving a tithe (or more) of whatever is in our savings accounts
• Matching what we spend annually eating out
• Keeping an aging vehicle an additional year, etc.

In response to a first century famine in far off Judea, the apostle Paul, in II Corinthians 9, wrote: "Right now you have plenty and can help them; then at some other time they can share with you when you need it.”

It’s what Jesus would have us do.

Besides donations made at the Relief Sale or on its website, donations can be made directly on the MCC website.

Here's a link to more posts on increasing giving for refugee relief

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"You Can't Stand Up All By Yourself"--Thirty Years Of Celebrating Families at FLRC

At last night's fundraising dinner marking the 30th anniversary of our agency, the amazing local men's a cappella group Cantore sang,
Ah, you can't stand up all by yourself,
You can't stand up alone...
Those words by Jesse Winchester were especially appropriate as an introduction to the talk I was asked to give at that event, as follows:
The family is an amazing institution. I love being a part of an agency that has “family” as a part of its name and its mission, something we celebrate this evening.
     I remember reading about this little boy who announces to his mother, 
“When I grow up I want to marry you.” 
His older sister chimes in with, “Oh you can’t marry your mother,” 
“Then I’ll marry you,” he said, disappointed. 
“No, you can’t marry anyone in your own family.” 
He’s shocked. “You mean I have to marry a total stranger?” 
     Well, that’s the way families start, two unrelated strangers forming a new social unit, then their children leave them to repeat the same thing, and the cycle of life goes on.
     We each owe our very existence to this kind of social organism. As someone has said,"There is no such thing as a baby. It is always a baby and someone." Without some serious nurturing by  some other human beings (even the less than functional ones) a child would not survive, or if it could, it wouldn’t be truly human, or even animal, but more like a vegetable. We need relationships with others in order to become ourselves.
The Ancestral Family
But FLRC is about more than just supporting the nuclear family of father, mother and one or more children. From a family systems perspective, we see each of us as linked to a lineage that includes all of our many ancestors, who have not only given us our DNA, but whose stories have shaped us in far more ways we realize. The more we come to know about them, the better we understand and know ourselves.
     As African-American author August Wilson has said, “Children who do not know their grandparents, and their grandparent’s stories, are lost people.” So in the spirit of something my oldest son once said, “If you want to make a point, tell a story,” I’ll begin with some of my own ancestral story.
     In 1742, one of my great, great, great, great, great grandfathers, Christian Yoder, at age 16, got off a packed and loaded ship, the Francis and Elizabeth, at the port of Philadelphia with his father and we’re not sure how many of his family members, to start a new life in a world free of religious persecution and likely, as a person of peace, to avoid being conscripted into the Swiss army. 
     Later, in 1776, when his own sons were of draft age, he packed up his family and belongings in a Conestoga wagon for a 200 mile trek from eastern PA to move to what was then the wild west of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, in part to keep his own sons from being coerced into fighting and killing, either on the side of the occupying British army, or with the rebel Continental army. From there his descendants moved further west and finally into Oklahoma and Kansas. We all have such migrant stories, unless we’re native Americans, or our forebears were brought over in slave ships.
     Then in 1946, when I was 6 years old, my parents, Ben and Mary, packed up their belongings in a freight car which my father accompanied on a 1400 mile journey by train from eastern Anderson County, Kansas, to Augusta County in Virginia, and my mother shepherded us eight children on that same long journey by passenger train. 
     The older I get, the more I realize how much my life has been shaped by my family story. That became so impactful the last night I spent with my father at the Waynesboro hospital in October of 1985. He was dying from a lung disease, and in taking my turn being with him at night, I was in the reversed role of parent looking after a needy, diminished and sometimes confused version of my father. 
     On my way home after that emotionally exhausting night, I found myself crying, not just over missing the extraordinary father of my memory, but crying for my past missed connections with him, growing up as I did in times of financial stress on our 120 acre farm, often wishing Dad would have more time to go for a walk or go fishing with me, or just have conversations with me. And yet I realized he gave me so much more than he had ever gotten from his father, and his own childhood. 
     My dad’s mother, grandmother Elizabeth, died at age 35 when dad was only three, from complications in giving birth to what would have been her fourth child with my grandfather Dan. And this was, tragically, the third of Dan’s wives to die. His first wife Lucy died at age 23 of measles, leaving him a widower with two young children, John and Anna, named after his parents. On the day of Lucy’s burial, little Anna also died, of measles. Dan’s second wife, Rebecca, at age 29, died of tuberculosis, leaving him with young John and five other children, the youngest of whom also died, of tuberculosis, within six months of her mother’s passing. After losing his third wife, my grandmother, Dan married a fourth time when my father was eight. In an extended recorded conversation I had with my father, he told me he had often cried himself to sleep wishing he could have a mother like other children did, rather than just his grief-stricken father and others who helped take care of their household, He knew Dan mostly as a “man of sorrows”. 
     But along with the blessing of gaining a stepmother at age 8 came other sorrows. The fourth wife, Miriam Mullet, was a widow with fifteen children and stepchildren. When Miriam married my grandfather Dan, a number of her oldest children were already grown and gone, but the remaining family of fun-loving Mullets never blended well with the somber and strict Dan Yoder side of the family. The resulting stress and ongoing grief could have turned my father into a bitter and negative person. Instead, he and my mother, who has a fascinating story of her own, were known as among the most hospitable and gracious people you could find. I can never be grateful enough for all I’ve gained from this part of my story.
     Without a doubt, my becoming involved with hurting and distressed people as a pastor and as a counselor was shaped by that history, and here at FLRC we are always interested in encouraging people to become better acquainted with their past story, and to get in touch with more of themselves by becoming reconnected, by "re-membering" forgotten or dismembered parts of their past as a way of their finding greater wholeness.

The Family Of Faith
A second even broader concept of family that FLRC represents is the family of faith. Perhaps our special niche as an agency devoted to “hope, health and healing” is that of encouraging, wherever possible and whenever appropriate, clients maintaining life-giving ties not only with their biological extended families, but with their chosen kin based on spiritual or other kinds of communities with whom they share common values and a common care for one another. Our agency was birthed by members of the Virginia Mennonite Conference, folks with a tradition of strong ties with each other, where no one starves unless everyone starves, and where whenever there are losses or griefs nor special needs, that no has to ever go through them alone. We are never about proselytizing, of course, but to affirm that individuals, couples, families and children greatly benefit by being surrounded by constant care and accountability that add to their strength and durability.
      I’m often saddened by people in crisis in my office having a very limited network of care around them, making their distresses doubly difficult to bear. 
     I’ll never forget having someone from another community share with me something that happened to her years before as a young adolescent. Her family were relative newcomers in their town, and they had neither extended family nor congregational family ties, so her mother decided to invite some of her classmates and neighborhood peers to a birthday party for her.
       As a middle schooler she was somewhat overweight, subject to teasing and sometimes near bullying in school because of it, so the idea of having a nice party in her honor was special. The day came, with all the preparations made, her mother had decorated a special cake for her, the time came, and they waited. And waited.
     But no one showed up. No one. And no one had bothered to send any regrets or to see that she was given a gift anyway. It was one of the darkest days of her life, one she still can’t think about without re-living some of the desolation and rejection she felt. 
     That should never ever happen to a child, or to anyone. We all deserve to be a part of what in my German tradition we called a freundschaft (our blood relatives), and a gemeinschaft (a community of people with close ties) former strangers who enjoy birthday and other celebrations together, people who show up at weddings and funerals and graduations and picnics and Sunday dinners. Individuals and nuclear families thrive in the context of these extended families of people who love each other and who powerfully influence each other and each others’ children. It does take a whole village, or a whole congregation, to raise a whole person.
     Just last week we experienced the tragic loss of one of my grand nephews, Cameron Yoder, age 23, of a congenital heart condition no one had known about, leaving behind a young widow after a marriage of only three years, and two precious daughters, one just under two, and another only 3 months old.
     Hundreds of members of both their freundschaft and their gemeinschaft were present at the memorial service held at Bethel Mennonite near Gladys, with an a cappella music group singing “I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, bravely claiming what we all prayed could 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 all around me
Where God's redeemed
Their vigils keep”
That, too, is a part of the FLRC concept of family.

God's Worldwide Family
But a final part is an even larger vision of family, one that includes God’s dream of a world "freundshaft" redeemed from every tribe and language and nation who are being restored to God’s shalom, that Hebrew word for peace that means harmony with all creatures and with all creation, where nothing is marred and nothing is missing. It’s the grand vision God has for a world in which wolf lies down with lamb, and no one will study war any more. In one sense, we can never be completely whole unless and until the brokenness of the world is healed and all are reconciled to God and to our every neighbor, including our enemies. 
     None of us can be fully whole until our starving fellow human beings, war and famine refugees around the world receive their share of God’s daily bread, where those who are cold and without shelter are offered clothing and safety and warmth.
     None of us can be fully whole until all of the tears in God’s family are being wiped away, until the emotionally and physically ill and disabled are being loved and cared for, the lost and the lonely, the orphans and widows, the sick and the aged are all sheltered as a part of God’s beloved family.
     None of us can be fully whole until the life and wellbeing of every child is nurtured from the womb to the tomb, where the married and the single and the celibate are honored and celebrated in our families and communities.     
     None of us can be fully whole until prisoners are released and restored and the oppressed go free and liberty is proclaimed throughout every land, until God’s will is being done right here on earth as it is being done in heaven, where God’s rule, God’s kingdom, unites us all as one family of grace and shalom, and where life becomes one ongoing Christmas gift exchange.
     We are all called to be a part of this, for the next thirty years and beyond, no longer just living by the values of the past, but inspired by the values and the vision of God’s forever future.
     I close with some words of the prophet Isaiah, with his grand vision of God’s dream family that I want to see people getting some taste of whenever they visit our FLRC house at Newman Avenue, and wherever they visit any of us wherever we live and work, 
      “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light…In that glorious day of peace there will no longer be the issuing of battle gear; no more the bloodstained uniforms of war…  For unto us a child is born…  and he shall be called “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace.” He will bring true justice and peace to all the nations…  (from Isaiah 9)
     …the Lord Almighty is preparing a wondrous feast for everyone around the world—a delicious feast of good food, with the finest of wine…  he will remove the cloud of gloom, the pall of death that hangs over the earth…  The Lord God will wipe away all tears and take away forever all insults and injustice. The Lord has spoken—he will surely do it!”  (from Isaiah 25)
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