Monday, August 21, 2017

What If Seeing The Stars Were As Rare As Witnessing An Eclipse?

Like many amazing phenomena in nature, we take our sun pretty much for granted as a highly predictable source of our light and sustainer of our life. Only when it becomes partially or completely hidden do we give it much attention.

Today's eclipse certainly proves the point. Millions of us will be giving this wonderful star our rare full attention.

But what if we only rarely got to see the billions of suns in the heavens that put on a celestial light show for us every night?

EMU's late professor M. T. Brackbill, a legend in his own time, had an infectious love of astronomy, and wrote the following piece a number of years prior to my being a student at what was then EMC.

Here’s a slightly condensed version of his essay:

"If The Stars Shone Only One Night Every Thousand Years"
M.T. Brackbill

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 is, 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!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

HARD TIME VIRGINIA Volume II, Number 3 (an occasional newsletter for Virginia inmates)

Blind inmate poet Minor Smith, age 73
DOJ Criticizes Solitary Confinement for Mentally Ill

Joe Davidson, in a July 12, 2017, Washington Post column, reports concerns expressed by a watchdog group of the U.S. Justice Department about the use of solitary confinement for long periods of time in federal prisons. He also cites a general lack of mental health treatment for US inmates.

Some mentally ill persons are housed in solitary-confinement conditions for years, according to the report, with limited human contact or opportunities for physical or mental stimulation. This creates the kind of stress that can contribute to psychosis in anyone, but especially people who already have diagnosable emotional and mental problems.

Local Spouse Responds to Harvspot Blog on "The High (and Hidden) Costs Of Incarceration"

My husband committed credit card fraud in 2011 and gave a false name when confronted by police. He got two years probation and did weekend jail for two months. In 2015 he got off probation and thought he was a free man. Then he and I got pulled over in on June 28, 2017, for a seat belt violation. The Sheriff ran both our licenses and my husband was informed there had been a capias out on him.We were in shock.

He was arrested, taken to Sheriff's Department where they gave him a court date and let him go. He had a fine that was past due that he had made small payments on, and he went to court and was assigned a public defender. The next time he came to court to make payment arrangements he got locked up for a year!

The Circuit Court Judge asked why he had never seen a probation officer. He had already completed probation in the County where we live and was not aware that he had to complete probation in ________ County as well.

It makes me sick to think our tax dollars are paying for a man who has already done 2 years probation to sit in jail, who could be out repaying his fines and paying his debt to society. This is an injustice and a true disgrace to our justice system! 

My husband had never been in trouble or incarcerated before. He is 45 yrs old, is diabetic and has a bad case of arthritis along with his nerve problems, and he is not doing well at the Middle River Jail. He's been waiting patiently to see a medical doctor there, but has been there for a week and a half and no one has even taken his blood sugar level yet.

There are hardened criminals who get less time then my husband got for this one bad judgement he made in 2011.

Questionable Jail Deaths to get Closer Scrutiny

The following is by Bill Bartel in the 7/25/17 Virginian-Pilot:

Any future questionable deaths in Hampton Roads Regional Jail and other Virginia jails will require closer state scrutiny under a new law that took effect this month. The legislation also puts more law enforcement and health care professionals on the State Board of Corrections.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who pressed for tighter oversight of regional jails, has announced the appointment of six new members to the nine-member corrections board, including Virginia Beach Police Deputy Chief Bill Dean, two former sheriffs, a physician, a health care executive and a minister. Their appointments were guided by the new requirement that the board have members with specific backgrounds, including health care or law enforcement, as well as “a citizen member who represents community interests.”

The statute, unanimously approved by the General Assembly earlier this year, expanded the board’s responsibilities to include reviewing the questionable death of an inmate in local or regional correctional facilities. The panel has the power to conduct hearings, issue subpoenas and take sworn testimony. Its probe can lead to proposed policy changes, but any criminal investigation would have to be conducted by state or local law enforcement officials.  

Virginia Parole Board Grants 32 July Releases

Of 242 cases reviewed by the current four-member Parole Board now chaired by Adrianne Bennett, 32 inmates were granted parole in July. Only four of these were geriatric releases, at a time when ever more inmates are needing to be transferred to the Deerfield Correctional Center, a virtual nursing home offering care to aging and ill inmates.

Mr. Algie Howell, a long time member of the Parole Board who I have been told has often cast deciding nay votes in inmate cases, is rumored to have been relieved of his assignment by the Governor, and according to the VPB website, no one has yet been appointed to replace him.

Another Poem by Legally Blind Inmate Minor Smith, Recently Moved to Deerfield Correctional Center


Shopping became a pleasure, and we each preferred colors that were not dim.
New clothes looked so nice, only we could not afford to purchase many of them.
Jennifer bought two western style outfits and other items she had selected.
Although my new sport coat matched her fashion, boots and hats were neglected.

That evening, we lugged our suitcases into a restaurant for a light meal.
By and by, in a supermarket, a package of cookies was included in our next deal.
Life was still looking up, while we boarded the Trailway bus in single file.
Our smiling driver simply told my wife she was really traveling in style.

We exited Roanoke County, then travelled through Montgomery, Pulaski, and Whythe.
Jennifer had progressed poorly in the fourth grade and never entered the fifth.
At VSDB (1), she had been the one girl who had skated among us boys on the court.
Together, she and I had rarely attended the school's activities of some sort.

In Sunday school at Staunton, I would have been willing to marry Mary Beth.
Above my TV. chair at dads, a crucifix still hung to reveal his "Good Mans" death.
In characterization, I have given his favorite Grandson the name Peter.
That one had been privileged by parents as though he would become a great leader.

His father, Sam, had lumbered for Dad and had labored as our Blacksmith.
Then Sam bought property in Williamsburg for Gordon, whom he had hauled logs with.
Among Dad's four sons in law, Sam had been the one whom I had admired the most.
He had provided well for his family,and usually carried out each boast.

Jennifer and I hurried off the bus in Bristol to find some food that was good.
We hadn't eaten my cookies assuming that they were probably as hard as wood.
It appeared to us that we had ridden 200 more miles as we rolled into Knoxville.
In all my future travels, I would never tour the cities I desired to see:Nashville. 

Jennifer favored songs by Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff; she too liked Minny Pearl.
I wondered what all had gone amiss in the life of the slain little Knoxville girl.
Daddy had revealed anger to some people down his hard working hands.
Although compelled by spite, Mom had been strict about some of Gods commands.

To retaliate for having been abused by Mom, children, robbers, and rookies.
Upon reentering Chattanooga, I opened the package and gave Jennifer the cookies.
Momentarily, I considered the convicts at Silverdale and their various pains.
I imagined that former prison mines there were still asleep in chains.

Jennifer had verbal control of my actions like a mean Cowgirl with a whip.
A boil about Little Rock, we acted like two runaways during the entire trip.
Granny Johnson lived beyond her eightieth birthday before she had been found dead.
To give some people information, she did not need to hit the nail right on the head.

At the Memphis depot, a display case revealed a little silver cross and chain.
Fulfilling Jennifer's desire, I bought it, unaware that it would match her cane.
What we rode across next made us proud, yet I shrugged off a meager shiver.
Our driver announced that we were crossing the wide and still muddy Mississippi River. 

(1) Virginia School For The Deaf And Blind

Friday, August 18, 2017

Let's Support This Amazing Project!

Image may contain: 5 people, text
Wynonah, at 17, has done an impressive documentary, and deserves our support for the cause to which she is so devoted. Please share this and encourage others to attend this event. And on Monday evening she and I will be co-leading a new initiative, Aging People in Prison - Human Rights Campaign (APP-HRC), which holds its second public meeting on August 21st, at 7:00 pm, at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 660 S. Main St. in Harrisonburg. Thanks for your help!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oldest Brother Writes About Race 60 Years Ago

Sanford Yoder, at 87
At the height of the racial conflicts following the 1954 Brown v. the Board of Education decision, my brother Sanford had the following piece published in the English section of the October 15, 1957, Amish Mennonite publication, Herald der Wahrheit (Herald of Truth). For someone who grew up in a deeply segregated state (Virginia), he was clearly ahead of his time, and what he says is very relevant for the racial animosity that rears its ugly head today. 

Sanford was 27 when he wrote this piece, which I have edited slightly for brevity.

Segregation or Integration?
Sanford Yoder 10/15/57

The national and possibly the international spotlight is on the desegregation contention in Little Rock (Arkansas), Nashville (Tennessee), and other hotspots in the South. In Little Rock, Governor Orval Faubus set National Guard troops around Central High School, a school of 2000, to keep Negro pupils, who had been told by the school board to enroll there, from entering, and thus has gone directly against the Federal Court order, which creates a serious national problem. In Nashville a large elementary school was dynamited by segregationists because one colored child was enrolled in the first grade.

Feelings seem to be mounting, creating mobs bent on violence, manifested in throwing rocks, jeering, mocking and spitting on passing Negroes. This is a sad state of affairs. One thing commendable in this whole situation is the spirit of humility which the Negroes as a rule have manifested in the face of these harassments, and in some cases, cruelty.

Who is right, Governor Faubus or Judge Davies of the Federal Court? those who want integration or the segregationists? the North or the South? the white or the colored? On which side are we?

We as Christians should not be involved in civil conflicts... It is up to the powers ordained of God for the purpose of maintaining law and order in the world to settle this, and not the church (Romans 13:1-4).

But some of us may have allowed this unregenerate world to influence us into believing that the colored race is inferior to the white and therefore should not be permitted an equal fellowship with us.

And while the Word of God very emphatically teaches that Christians are to have "no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness..." it does not mention the race of people. We should have no more to do with the evil deeds of a white man than a colored man, and should have as much to do with, and be as concerned about, an unregenerate colored man as if he were white, Indian or Chinese.

Separation of the church and the world must always be maintained... But the Bible certainly does not teach segregation of the races in God's family. Christians of all races are one in Christ, who has bought us all with the same price, his own precious blood... "Wherefore there is neither Greek or Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all, and in all." (Colossians 3:11)

Our Anabaptist forefathers believed this, as we can see by our 1632 Confession of Faith, which was written in the face of persecution and hardships. We still accept it because it is based on the inspired Word of God. Article V. states, "...he has caused this Testament be proclaimed in his name, through his beloved apostles, messengers and servants... to all nations people and tongues... that all men without distinction, if they are obedient, by faith... are his children and rightful heirs."

We are so thankful for the all-inclusiveness of the Gospel of Christ, because, were it not so, we too would no doubt be excluded.

We do not hold to this belief just because the United States Supreme Court in 1954 ruled that segregation of the races is unconstitutional and made integration the law of the land (although we do believe in respecting the laws of the land), but we believe it because it is the message of the gospel of Christ. The apostle Peter, in his experience on the housetop of Simon the tanner, was shown this truth in a vision, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." (Acts 10:15)

Some are afraid of what this attitude will do to our witness to the world. Beloved, this love for everyone, white, black, red, yellow, and even those who don't believe this, is our witness to a world filled with hatred and prejudice.
Woodberry Forest, Virginia
For the past five decades Sanford and his wife Martha have been self-supporting church planters in Costa Rica. At 87, Sanford still writes an occasional piece for the La Antorcha de la Verdad (The Torch of Truth), distributed widely over Central and South America, and for a book of daily devotional readings published here in the states, Beside the Still Waters.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Our Deep-Seated Need To Be Remembered

This is only one small section of some 80 acres of cemetery in Beckley, WV.
"Every headstone, every book, every sculpture, every song, every building, every award, are all just the same thing... the individual crying, 'I was here.' And yet everyone of us, given the passage of enough time, is forgotten." 

To celebrate our 53rd wedding anniversary, Alma Jean and I spent some time in Beckley, WV, this past week visiting the Tamarack arts and crafts center, the New River Bridge Visitors Center and other sites in this scenic area of West Virginia.

But we almost missed something nearly as amazing right next to the EconoLodge on Harper Road where we were staying, the historic Sunset Memorial Park.

I'm always intrigued by cemeteries, so I decided this would be a great place to walk for some daily exercise, but I was totally unprepared for what I saw when I crested the first hill on the property. Before me was over a half mile of seemingly endless cemetery stones and mausoleums of every size, shape and design, some marking burials of over 200 years ago. 

I was told that over 19,000 people are buried there from all over Raleigh County and the surrounding area, a larger number than those currently living in Beckley itself.

Walking in that vast area of memorial stones reminded me of how all of us want to somehow leave some footprints, some markers of our journey here on earth. As humans, it is not only death itself that we want to avoid or delay, but we fervently wish not be forgotten after we are gone.

My faith and hope tell me that no good life, no good deed, no good person will ever be lost forever, and will live on in ways more significant than can be captured on any gravestone.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

In Mending Relationships, Put Acceptance First

Be accepting in dealing with people, but assertive in dealing with problems.    

There are many conditions for living in relationships that require serious negotiation, but there should be no conditions for loving. This means that accepting others as persons of incomparable value needs to be our starting point in repairing relationships, not something withheld until some end point when all problems have been resolved.

Here is a handout I often give to couples in marital counseling:


1. There is no other and no better place to begin in restoring and healing our relationship than where we are right now.

We will not remain stuck where we are, but we will begin from where we are.

We accept where we are as a good starting place.

2. There are no other or better persons to work with in this process than the two of us, with our unique mix of human weaknesses and special strengths.

We are not perfect, but we are each lovable, respectable and precious human beings 
who are capable of growth and change.

We accept who we are as individuals who can make this happen.

3. There is no other or better time to begin this work than right now.

The possibilities for our future are limitless. 
The problems in our past are important only as experiences we can learn and grow from.

We accept the challenge to invest our faith and our energy into working at this every day.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Mennonite Editor Is Charged With Sedition

Wars often put American rights at risk.
In the middle of World War I, on June 15, 1917, the highly controversial Espionage Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by US President Woodrow Wilson.

The Act provided for a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for anyone convicted of interfering with military recruitment, and it imposed a penalty of up to $10,000 (over $166,000 in today's dollars) for anyone convicted of doing so. It also gave additional powers to the Postmaster General to confiscate any mail that could be considered "seditious or treasonable".

As a part of a senior history project years ago I did some research on how this dramatically impacted the Mennonite publisher of a weekly newspaper, the Sugarcreek (Ohio) Budget, a paper still widely circulated in Amish and Mennonite communities across the US. At the time editor Samuel H. Miller, who was also a preacher heavily involved in church work, was delegating a lot of the responsibility for his paper to his linotype operator, A. A. Middaugh.

While Miller was in Pennsylvania for meetings, Middaugh printed a rather lengthy letter in the May, 15, 1918, issue of the Budget that was written by M. E. Bontrager of Dodge City, Kansas. It was just one of scores of newsy letters from readers published regularly in the paper each week, but this one read as follows:

How are we meeting the great problems confronting us? Shall we weaken under the test or are we willing to put all our trust in our dear Savior? ....Our young brethren in camp were tested first. Let us take a lesson from their faithfulness. They sought exemption (from military service) on the grounds that they belonged to a church which forbids is members the bearing of arms or participating in war in any form. Now we are asked to buy Liberty Bonds, the form in which the government has to carry on the war. Sorry to learn that some of the Mennonites have yielded and bought the bonds. What would happen to the nonresistant faith if our young brethren in camp would yield? From letters I received from brethren in camp I believe they would be willing to die for Jesus rather than betray Him. Let us profit by their example they have set for us so far, and pray God may strengthen them in the future. Many people can't understand why we don't want to defend our country... (by taking up arms).

As a result of this exercise of free speech and freedom of the press, editor Miller was charged with "inciting and attempting to incite insubordination, disloyalty and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States, in publishing in the newspaper known as the Weekly Budget, which was distributed to certain people, among them were A. A. Kauffman and others..." The result was his having to pay fines and court costs totaling $900, which would be the equivalent of nearly $15,000 today.

So much for the First Amendment. And Editor Miller, a traumatized man, soon sold his paper and got out of the publishing business for good.

While the Espionage Act of 1917 is no longer applied in the same manner it was when first enacted, it has never been repealed, and so technically remains in effect today.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Are We Ready To Fund Truly Pro-Life Policies?

At the very least, we should inflict no harm.
According to an article in the July 24 issue of TIME magazine, "The United Patients of America", many Americans are increasingly conflicted in the current debate over healthcare.

An example is that of Alison Chandra, a pediatric nurse who has a three-year-old son with heterotaxy, an extremely rare condition in which he was born with multiple heart defects, two left lungs and five spleens.

According to the article, while Alison and her son are currently covered by her husband's employee health plan, the likely return of lifetime caps under any proposed replacement of Obamacare would make their child virtually uninsurable. His care has already cost nearly $2 million, and their son's future prospects are grim at best, but without health insurance coverage there would be little hope for him.

Chandra, who is strongly pro-life, laments, "Those who would have crucified me for aborting my child now want to make it impossible for me to keep him alive."

Herein lies the dilemma. With ever more advances in means of saving the lives of those who in the past would have had no chance of survival, who will pay the astronomical costs for their treatment?

For me, the answer is simple. Let's make deep cuts in our spending on massive means of military destruction and reinvest that money in saving all of the precious lives we can.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Guest Response To Patrick Buchanan Column "Are We Still A Nation?"

Were the original colonists a monolithic group?
The following is an excellent response written by local playwright and producer Jay Zehr:

Pat Buchanan's recent column described the United States as originally consisting of one people descended from the same white ancestors, practicing the same religion and all speaking the same language.

This is total fantasy.  Historian James Stuart Olson describes the colonies in 1776 as “a cultural kaleidoscope of three races and dozens of ethnic and religious groups." Multiple European languages were still spoken. In the 1790 census nearly one fifth of the population was of African descent. West of the Appalachians there were still significant numbers of indigenous people.  

Had the U.S. immediately implemented the principle of all men being created equal with inalienable rights (including the long established principles of property rights) the U.S. would now look entirely different.

Buchanan also disparages contemporary religious diversity. But that's hardly new. Among the faiths he cites, the LDS church was established in 1830. Jews are only 2.2 percent of the population, Muslims just one percent, Hindus and Buddhists even less. Does that really represent a national existential crisis? A large majority of Americans still identify as Christian. The percentage is even higher among Hispanic immigrants. 

And the conflicts between different branches of Christianity was much worse in the eighteenth century. It's amazing that Pat Buchanan, a Catholic, waxes nostalgic about John Jay describing early Americans as all "professing the same religion."  

John Jay was notoriously anti-Catholic and suggested the image of a "wall of brass around the country for the exclusion of Catholics." He opposed civil liberties for Catholics unless they renounced their "wicked...and damnable doctrine."  Catholics were discriminated against throughout the colonies. Priests could be arrested for entering Virginia. The pro-Catholic provision of the Quebec Act was a major factor leading to the American Revolution.  

Fortunately for Mr. Buchanan, the principle of liberty for minority faiths prevailed and he is free to practice Catholicism. Yet he now implies that the presence of a very small number of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists is contributing to a supposed collapse of the nation.

Of course, xenophobia is hardly new. Consider this quote: 

"Few of their children in the country learn English... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages ... Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious."  

That's Benjamin Franklin writing about German immigrants who he considered a different ethnicity.  Many of our ancestors that Buchanan suggests we venerate would have never made it to these shores had that sentiment prevailed.  

So yes, Mr. Buchanan. We have major conflicts in the U.S. But we still have a nation.  The United States of America  has survived much worse. With positive leadership instead of constant doomsaying we still can.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Brad's Latest Song: "You Can't Fix Everything"

Our son Brad's most recent song sends a strong message about limits in life, a word I need to hear and heed. Maybe I should consider putting its title on my tombstone. 
Read the lyrics below and/or listen to it on his website:

you can’t fix everythingUse Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.

you always try your best to clean up every mess,
though you’ve had much success,
you can’t fix everything,
so quick to roll your sleeves, before you even grieve,
as if you don’t believe that
you can’t fix everything
there are things in this world, when they’re gone, they’re just gone
there ain’t no magic words gonna save them,
just a boy and a girl, 7 holes in their hearts,
where were you gonna start to repair them?
I’ve got this private hell, in case you couldn’t tell?
so I remind myself, hey,
you can’t fix everything
pick up each broken dream, examine every seam,
glue where the fracture’s clean but
you can’t fix everything
many things in this world, when they’re lost, they’re just lost
there’s no cost you can pay to replace them,
I’ll fly my heart at half-mast for the love that can’t last,
7 holes in the song we were playing,
but we knew that, yeah, we knew that..
a string tied around my wrist, so I will not forget
the way you whispered it:
“you can’t fix everything…”

Brad is a singer-songwriter in Pittsburgh.