Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Letter Judge Kavenaugh Should Have Written

Can this be a place where justice 
rolls on like a river?
Many of us are experiencing grief about all the polarization resulting from Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. This was only made worse when Kavanaugh blamed Democrats, liberals and leftists for conspiring to bring up the disturbing allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford. The groups he's disparaging are, after all, a part of the diverse mix of US citizens with issues that may some day come before the Supreme Court, representing cases he would need to decide without any political bias. 

Meanwhile, I wish he could have published the following:

Dear Dr. Ford (and other accusers):

I hope you can understand how the intense scrutiny I've been subjected to in the confirmation process has been extremely difficult for me and my family. Yet it has also made me aware of how some of my actions of years ago must have caused great suffering for you and others.

(While I do not recall) or (While I now acknowledge) the alleged traumatic incident you have described, I must admit that in high school and as a young adult I was a part of a peer group in which excessive drinking and inappropriate behavior and attitudes toward girls and women were far, far too common. I deeply regret such behavior in that stage of my teen and young adult life, and especially regret any harm I or any of my peers may have personally caused you or others.

There is no excuse for anyone of any age to physically or psychologically assault or otherwise traumatize any one of any age or either gender. Period. Looking back and acknowledging my part in such behavior causes me great shame and makes me all the more determined to spend the rest of my life rectifying this kind of harm. I am determined to have my experience make me a better and more compassionate judge, and a more focused advocate for the rights of any and all who are exploited or otherwise harmed.

I am also personally willing to meet with Dr. Ford and with any of my accusers in a restorative justice process in which I have the opportunity, which I sincerely welcome, to fully acknowledge whatever wrongs I've done and to repair any harm to which I've contributed, to the best of my ability.

In conclusion, I can only say I am deeply sorry and sincerely ask for your forgiveness. I see forgiveness as involving far more than a dismissive "let's pretend this never happened," but is based on thorough repentance and turning ones life in a positive and new direction.

I hope you and the American people will extend me that grace and grant me that opportunity.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

1916 Virginia Conference Addresses US Congress

The Zion Mennonite Church near Broadway hosted a Conference meeting over a hundred years ago which  produced an urgent appeal to Congress .

The simple words composed by delegates of the Virginia Mennonite Conference in 1916 have proven to be wiser than any heard in the halls of Congress regarding participation in World War I. That costly, senseless and cruel conflict resulted in an enormous loss of life and incredible human suffering. It also set the stage for World War II and the Cold War that followed. Meanwhile, Mennonite war resisters were mocked, persecuted and accused of being cowards, German sympathizers and worse.

Here is the official statement drafted over 100 years ago:

We the members of the Mennonite Conference of Virginia now in annual session at the Zion Mennonite Church near Broadway, Rockingham Co., Va., on this 14th day of October, 1916, herewith submit for your consideration the following preamble and resolution:


Whereas--as a peace-loving people we have long enjoyed the protection and benefits derived from the laws enacted by the Unites States congress by which we have been permitted to carry out the principles of the non-combatant life, and,

Whereas--we have information of a movement that is being encouraged by certain members of your body that would recommend the establishment of a form of military training for boys and young men in connection with their student life in the schools of this country, and,

Whereas--such training is manifestly intended, as occasion may require, for mustering into regular military service, such as may hold dear the principles of the non-combatant life,---

Therefore be it resolved, that we as representatives of the religious body known as Mennonites, who recognize the plain teaching of the Word of God, call your attention to the fact that we cannot engage in carnal warfare, and that, in the light of all good government, it is eminently proper that all matters of national dispute should be settled by arbitration (italics mine).

Since the Constitution on which the national government is founded upholds the principle that its people be allowed to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience; we plead for a continuation of this privilege, and thus have our children and members exempt from the military training contemplated in the movement herein described.

J. S. Martin, Moderator
C. H. Brunk, Secretary

Be sure to check out this amazing exhibit at EMU's Hartzler Library October 1-November 17 to learn more about some anti-war heroes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Oh The People That You Meet When You're Cruising Down The Street

An old friend has finally met its fate, and will likely be
considered totaled.
Last evening on my way home from a meeting in the south end of town, my journey was interrupted by a pizza delivery car crossing Main Street from my left and pulling right into my lane. There was no way of preventing the collision that followed.

Had I been at fault I would have been stressed to the max, but as it was I felt an almost eerie sense of calm, mixed with  a profound sense of relief over how much worse things could have been. No airbags were deployed and both I and the other driver, a nice young man who spoke better Arabic than English, were able to assess the situation and do what was needed to get help.

And what a response! Within 20-minutes two police cars, an ambulance crew and a fire truck arrived, lights flashing and sirens sounding. My friend in the other vehicle, who at first insisted he wasn't injured, eventually was taken to the ER to be checked out, complaining of some numbness from the incident. But everyone, including some neighboring JMU students, were totally kind and helpful.

After some necessary questioning I was eventually told I could leave, so a kind officer gave me a ride home and a tow truck took my vehicle to Dan's Body Service, which provided me the photo above.

My fondness for this humble little "hick-up" is based on how utterly dependable and low-maintenance it's been and the fact that we bought it from some great friends many years ago, Guy and Margie Vlasits, who had taken great care of it and let us have it a very reasonable price.

But I've come to believe that in God's economy nothing has to go to waste, and this little loss has been a good reminder of the following:

1. You can't be too careful out there.

2. Don't get too attached to possessions, even a dependable, low-maintenance 21-year-old vehicle with only 103,000 miles (and which still doesn't use any oil) and which has become a trusted part of my life.

3. Never take your life or health for granted. It could all be gone in an instant.

4. Thank God every day for blessings easily taken for granted, including meeting nice strangers in totally unexpected ways, and for their being helpful people around when you need them.

Here's something I posted five years ago when my little Nissan was featured in photographer Howard Zehr's coffee table book on our attachment to pickups.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Personal Possessions Or Government Property?

What if each item we claim as our own were marked
 "Kingdom Property--For God's Use Only"?
At first glance it seems extreme for baptized followers of Jesus to think of their personal property as having been totally re-assigned to God's ownership.

Yet most Christians have been taught that very concept all of their lives. We've labeled it "stewardship," meaning we no longer claim ownership of anything, but now see ourselves as trusted managers, or "stewards" of the wealth and property that is totally our Creator's. Using wealth primarily to benefit ourselves would thus be a form of embezzlement.

Having said that, this stewardship concept has never seemed to make much of a difference in how we think of possessions. Our incomes are still thought of as ours, except for the ten percent we may offer to our church or to charities. Our investments and our purchases are still seen as purely personal matters about which we make decisions based on our individual conscience.

But Jesus clearly asks us to think of ourselves and our belongings as now being a part of the "Kingdom (Rule) of Heaven", a worldwide government in which God is supreme owner and Lord of all.

As an example of this, in each of the first three gospels, Jesus states that we must become like children in order to become shareholders in this glorious enterprise. Not only does this mean becoming childlike as in having a dependent, innocent or impressionable disposition, but that in becoming born all over again, we voluntarily give up our claim to adult power, prestige or possessions. God's cause is so great that we consider nothing as being just about us anymore, but about the furtherance of God's will on earth as it is in heaven.

Immediately after each of these stories about Jesus welcoming and blessing children, there is the account of the "rich young ruler" who comes to Jesus to inquire about how to be assured of eternal life. His answer is stunning. If you are serious about gaining stock in the eternal 'Company of Heaven', he says, "Sell what you have and give it to the poor." Give it all up.

Thus whenever we acknowledge God's rule, we surrender all. Kingdom-enlisted men and women, our bodies are a living sacrifice, our finances are no longer our own, our possessions are all marked "Kingdom property." All of them.

Which is actually what we say and what we sing every Sunday, as in "All to Jesus I surrender" or "Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee"--including our silver and our gold, not a mite of which we withhold. Really?

Tell me if I'm wrong, as a part of me wishes were the case, and that I could avoid actually giving up any of the comfort, convenience and privilege of being in the top tier of the wealthiest people on earth.

Kyrie, eleison.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Here's an opportunity to give as though God really owned everything you have:

Friday, September 21, 2018

Some Surprising Second Comings Of Jesus

Sometimes Jesus shows up in disguise.
Duane Hershberger is a pastor, songwriter and a Regional Director for Habitat for  Humanity from Glenside, Pennsylvania. He began working for Habitat in Americus, Georgia, in the 80's, and leads 3-4 trips a year for the organization, mostly to Latin America. This is one of his recent songs, called "Second Coming of Jesus Christ":

Jesus tried to come back last Thursday afternoon.
Arrived on the corner of Third and Main. 
Thrift store Yankee’s jersey, number seven, of course.
hadn’t bathed in a week, smelling strange.
And the people passing by did not notice he was god
Talking on the phone and texting. 
Some met his eyes and then looked away
Vaguely disturbing and perplexing.

To see Jesus and a homeless guy as one
Just standing there like any mother’s son.
Instead of busting through the clouds or in the garden on his knees
Just showing up disguised as the least of these. 

Jesus tried again last Monday night. 
Walked into the ER without a dime. 
Nine months and one week pregnant, seventeen years old. 
Not so immaculate this time. 
And a guy with a cross pendant just shook his head. 
At the shame and disgrace before him.
Angels were not singing at least that he could hear
No wise men around to adore them,

Or see Jesus and a scared child as one
Old, old story, homeless mother and a son
Instead of busting through the clouds or in the garden on his knees
Just showing up disguised as the least of these.

Jesus tried one more time, under the desert moon, 
Walked right across the Texas border. 
Immigration picked him up, hauled him off to jail,
Said his papers weren't in order. 
The judge said, "young man, we have no room for you. 
You must go back to where you came from."
Then one nation under God sent Jesu Christo home. 
A poor family's son was not welcome. 

Oh Jesus, when we see you today
Might extend a hand or we might walk away
If you’re not busting through the clouds or in the garden on your knees
Just showing up disguised as the least of these.
He keeps showing up disguised as the least of these. 
He keeps showing up disguised as the least of these. 

Duane Hershberger
151 Harrison Ave
Glenside, PA 19038

Check out Hershberger’s executive coaching web site at

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Most Recited (And Most Misunderstood?) Prayer In The Bible

Jesus' Model Prayer For Members Of God’s Royal Command—Earth Division (note the plural pronouns):
This is not a petition for what I want,
but about what GOD wants to see happen
on earth (our Kingdom's outpost) as in
heaven (our Kingdom's headquarters).

Our Eternal Abba in Heaven,

May your Name be revered and honored by people everywhere.

May your kingdom, your reign, be established everywhere on earth, and may your will and mission be carried out by all of your loyal subjects and royal stewards all over the globe.

May your children everywhere be given their fair share of manna for their daily needs.

Forgive us all the debts we owe to others for sins committed in your name—wars, crusades, inquisitions, conquests, enslavements, injustices—as we forgive the debts we are owed by others—when your subjects have been slandered, persecuted, misunderstood, taken advantage of and despised by our enemies.

And lead us not into devastation—due to tests or tragedies too great to endure—but deliver us from every evil threatening us.

For yours is the sovereign kingdom
Yours is the royal power
Yours is the eternal glory
Forever and ever!

Jesus’ Prayer Affirms Four Things: 

1. God wants our life together here to be a demonstration of how life is in heaven (Thy will be done on earth as above).

2. God wants everyone to have enough (Give each of us our portion of daily bread).

3. God wants everyone on earth to live in shalom, to be forgiven and debt-free (Forgive us as we forgive others).

4. God wants everyone to make it to the finish (Deliver us from the forces of evil arrayed against us).

A Contrasting Me-Centered Prayer:

My Personal Savior and Heavenly Friend, may my good name be honored and my good reputation preserved. May my many prayers for me and my loved ones be granted—for good health, for good jobs and benefits, a loving family and for a long, carefree, and happy life—and above all, for an eternal home in heaven. Grant me and my loved ones abundant food and a long life of comfort and health, and forgive me any sins that might be held against me on the day of judgment, and make me tolerant of any and all evil or wrongdoing committed by others. And don’t let me be tempted or tested, but spare me from experiencing any troubles or trials. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Pardon My French

Self control begins with speech control.
The late comedian George Carlin became widely known for his monologue, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." 

While most of his unmentionables are still bleeped out on the majority of network TV shows, the definition of what is acceptable as prime-time and social media fare keeps being pushed further toward the edge. And the movie, music and cable TV industries have long since adopted Carlin’s offensive words and more.

Some will argue this is inevitable, a part of normal changes in language and culture we just have to to get used to. But the impetus for current changes is based far less on artistic merit than on what will attract greater attention and higher ratings. In other words, profit and popularity matter more than the negative effect our language may have on our culture, and especially on our young.

According to Dr. David Walsh of the Institute on Media and the Family, today’s media producers are highly focused on the number of “jolts per show” (JPS’s) necessary to keep ever larger numbers of eyes glued to the screen, mostly for purposes of selling more products. Some of the easier attention-grabbing “jolts” they use are explicit sex, gratuitous violence, suggestive humor and, yes, shocking language, the latter being the easiest and most mindless means of all.

Of course, what initially jars our sensibilities soon loses its shock value, so the competition for higher ratings has writers constantly competing for the bottom line--all too often the basest line when it comes to their choice of language.

As a result, vulgarity has gone mainstream, has become a part of everyday conversation. According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, “Words once reserved to register strongly negative emotions have become the standard lingo of movies, TV shows and music videos.” 

To the extent that Hollywood has become the nation’s primary story teller, both the language and the themes of their tales are profoundly shaping our culture, as a society’s stories always do. For the sake of future generations, how can we speak truth in ways that are truly respectful and life-giving?

In a 2005 policy speech to the Kaiser Family Foundation, then Senator Barak Obama said, “From the time they're young, we try to instill in our children a sense of what's right and wrong; a sense of what's important, of what's worth striving for. As best we can, we also try to shield them from the harsher elements of life, and introduce them to the realities of adulthood at the appropriate age... as parents, we have an obligation to our children to turn off the TV, pick up a book, and read to them more often.”

The coarsening of our culture and our language is not solely the fault of today’s media, including social media. A distressing number of parents routinely use vulgarities and swear words not only around their children but directly at them. And an increasing number of their offspring, at an ever younger age, are learning to out-swear their elders. After all, “everyone’s doing it.”

While government censorship isn’t likely to be of much to help here, we parents and other adults clearly need to get better control of our own speech. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his book, “Words that Hurt, Words That Heal,” believes we should practice choosing words as carefully as if we were composing a telegram. Words represent power, and to learn to discipline our speech is to learn to discipline ourselves.

Or as one New Testament writer says “If you can control your tongue, you are mature and able to control your whole body.” (James 3:2b CEV)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Local SOS Band In Concert Wednesday At HMC

SOS band: Nicholas Anguiano, Rachel Yoder, Taylor Bess, Phil Tieszen, Harrison Jarrett

Note: You can help DOUBLE the Relief Sale income October 5-6. Spend a liberal amount on food, auction and other items, then MATCH or MULTIPLY that amount with a cash, check or credit card donation for MCC refugee relief at the SOS (Sharing Our Surplus) Giving Table. 

Here's a link to learn more about the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale and to make an online donation to the SOS campaign:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Whole Armor For The Whole Army

We battle against dark systems and powers that 
threaten us all.
I used to think of the Ephesians 6 metaphor of our putting on "the whole armor of God" as being about individual believers battling against the personal temptations and demons they/we each face every day.

Then I noticed that the Greek pronouns used in the text are all plural, applying to the entire community of faith to which this pastoral letter is addressed. 

This led me to read the text in a different way, as a set of instructions a general might give to troops on the eve of battle. Except our enemies, of course, are not the human beings arrayed against us, but the dark and powerful isms, ideologies and influences that influence and motivate people to perpetuate evil systems that help maintain their power.

Here is where we are called upon to use the non-violent spiritual weapons of prayer, proclamation  and persuasion to bring light to darkness and injustice and hope to the suffering and oppressed.

In the words of Menno Simons:

"O dear Lord, how many principalities, cities and countries have they (our persecutors) destroyed to the ground? How many fires have they set? How many hundred thousands have they dispatched? How have they robbed, skinned and plucked of his goods the poor peasant who would have gladly kept the peace, and was entirely innocent of the contentions of the princes? What beastly, inhuman, hellish tyranny did they commit and continue to commit?

"I am well aware that those tyrants who boast themselves to be Christians justify and make good their abominable warring, their sedition and bloodshed, with a reference to Moses, Joshua, etc. But they do not reflect that Moses and his successors have served their day with their swords of iron, and that Christ has now given us a new commandment and has girded us with another sword (I am not speaking of the sword of justice, for that is a different matter, but I speak of war and sedition).

"For we have, by the grace of God that has appeared to us, beaten our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks, and we shall sit under the true vine, that is, Christ, under the Prince of Eternal Peace, and will never more study outward conflict and the war of blood...  We use no other sword than that which Christ himself brought to earth from heaven, and which the apostles plied with the power of the Spirit; namely the one that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord... With this sword and with no other do we desire to destroy the kingdom of the devil, to reprove all wickedness, to plant all righteousness..."

- from The Complete Works of Menno Simons (Herald Press), p. 603-4

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
- Ephesians 6:12-17 (NIV)

Sunday, September 9, 2018

HARD TIME VIRGINIA, Volume III, Number 3 (occasional news by and for inmates and concerned citizens)

Parole Release Numbers Remain Low

In June the Virginia Parole Board granted only six geriatric releases and 28 other grants. In July those numbers were nine geriatric and only 13 other releases. No women were granted parole in either June or July.

Older Prisons Need Air Conditioning

Large, poorly ventilated concrete prisons become extremely hot in the summer. While most of the newer facilities are climate controlled, the following are not:

Augusta Correctional Center - 1,327
Baskerville Correctional Center - 480
Bland Correctional Center - 635
Buckingham Correctional Center - 1,133
Deep Meadow Correctional Center - 692
Fluvanna Correctional Center - 1,202
Indian Creek (not sure) 1,004
Marion Correctional Treatment Center - 284
Nottoway Correctional Center - 1,387
Powhatan Reception & Classification Center - 369
Virginia Correctional Center for Women - 592
St. Brides (not sure) 1,179

Contact Governor Northam To Voice Your Concerns

Email the Governor at to express your concerns about any or all of the following:

- The report "Silent Injustice" calls for solitary confinement to be banned in state prisons except "only in rare and exceptional cases, for the shortest duration, with the least restrictive setting necessary and only when the prisoner poses a credible continuing and serious threat to the security of others."

- The DOC's goals should be to correct and rehabilitate inmates by providing adequate treatment (medically, mentally, and physically), basic education (Adult Basic Education) and 21st century career and vocational skills to each prisoner prior to their reentering society. 

- In the early 90's there were only around 10,000 prisoners in the Commonwealth and to date there are nearly 30,000. Please create and sign an executive order which would require the Virginia Parole Board (VPB) to release parole eligible prisoners before January 1, 2020. None should be discriminated against because of the crime(s) they were incarcerated for over 23 years ago. Any prisoner whom the VPB is deeming to be a threat to society should have a due process hearing with a competent attorney appointed to represent him/her.

- Require VCE to create and operate an enterprise at a facility to assemble solar panel systems, and order that each state-funded building should be equipped with solar systems by 2020. Low security level prisoners could be trained and paid to install these systems for VCE, especially since Governor Northam wants at least 3,000 megawatts of solar energy in Virginia by or before 2030. This would help bring Virginia into the 21st century.

- Correctional facilities need to be closed that are not structurally sound, do not have central air-conditioning, have only community showers and have poor water quality or represent other health concerns.

- Eliminate current for-profit healthcare providers for DOC and replace them by requiring Virginia's state-funded hospitals to provide healthcare to prisoners with their medical teams. As soon as this conversion has been completed, inmates should be provided annual complete physicals including blood and lab tests, regular colonoscopies, etc. Medical and dental visits, medications, medical devices and procedures should be provided at no cost or copay to prisoners.

- Remove Keefe Commissary from the DOC. and order each facility to hire qualified employees to operate their commissary with the assistance of trusted inmates from that facility.

- DOC commissary items should be purchased from Virginia vendors if possible and as cheaply as possible and stored in a centrally located warehouse which would allow items to be delivered to each facility weekly by trusted inmates. Items should not be marked up over 20%.

- Fair wages should be paid to prisoners for their work. Prisoners have not had a pay increase in over 30 years. The following has happened since the pay scale was created: DOC added for-profit companies such as Keefe Commissary and JPay, Inc. Laws have been created allowing DOC to deduct 5% of a prisoners pay for their Child Support and Court costs; another 10% deduction until $25.00 has been collected for Hold, plus another 10% deduction until $1,000.00 has been collected for savings. The money that is in hold and savings currently pays no interest.

- DOC should permit prisoners to purchase new or used laptop computers from an approved vender such as Amazon for their personal use in their housing units. These should be stand alone computers (without Internet access or WiFi) that are password protected by the facility's personal property officer who has been trained to install passwords onto each prisoner's device. Each prisoner should be allowed to order Microsoft Professional programs and other approved educational software.

- Current antiquated courses provided to prisoners should be replaced with 21st century vocational courses which should include multiple computer skills.

- Address the issue of widespread abuse from correctional staff, including abusive and racist language used by prison employees, withholding and tampering with food, ongoing sexual harassment and assaults, destruction of personal property, withholding of recreation and showers, use of restraints and strip cells for longer durations than permitted by VDOC policy, and pervasive interference with prisoners' access to the grievance procedure.   

DOC Investigates A Death in a Virginia Prison

According to the Hampton Roads Daily Press, the parent of the deceased inmate was recently notified of her son's death when two state troopers arrived at her door.  When she asked how he had died, there was no answer. After several desperate phone calls to the prison she finally contacted a nurse who confirmed the death but offered no explanation. A medical examiner finally informed the parent that the death was suicide. 

The death was later investigated by a DOC investigative unit (i.e, the DOC investigated itself). The Daily Press urged the DOC to be more transparent, and that it "conducts its business behind a curtain which restricts access to information and does not encourage public inquiry."

In fact they receive protection, through FOIA exemption, from public scrutiny not afforded to other state agencies. 

Fluvanna Prisoner Battles Cancer; a Result of Neglect

As an inmate at the Fluvanna Correctional Center waited more than two years to get a colonoscopy that would diagnose her with stage-four cancer she is now fighting. Advocates say issues like that are all too common for the inmates at the women's prison, the largest in Virginia. Recently, attorneys for several of the inmates appeared in federal court in Charlottesville, arguing that the state has failed to abide by a 2016 consent order to provide adequate medical care for inmates at the Fluvanna prison. 

An attorney from the Legal Aid Justice Center, told the court that the medical needs of 1,200 women were at risk if the Virginia Department of Corrections refused to make necessary changes. It was reported that three women died at Fluvanna over four weeks and that since the court order, 12 women have died. An attorney representing the DOC, said the prison has been in compliance every day since the consent order was signed. Plus, "no timeline was ever defined in the settlement, and it takes time to make such sweeping changes." The prisoner testified that she suffered from abdominal pain, rectal bleeding and weight loss for more than two years before she could get a colonoscopy. When she finally got the colonoscopy, it revealed a tumor that had metastasized to her liver. She is currently receiving chemotherapy and hoping that it is not too late.

As of April 2018 there were 28,800 other DOC prisoners housed across the state in other prisons with the exact same health care provider as for Fluvanna. 

Keefe Commissary Continues To Raise Rates While Inmate Wages Remain Flat

It has been over 30 years since the Virginia General Assembly has raised prisoners pay scale, but rising commissary costs continue to represent cost of living increases.

Below are some of Keefe Commissary's recent (and frequent)price hikes:

> Plain & Cinnamon Bagels previously 0.64 now 0.72
> Sausages 5 oz. previously 1.94 now 2.10
> Refried Beans 8 oz. previously 1.74 now 1.85
> Chili with Beans previously 1.60 now 1.74
> Clear Choice Peanut Butter 18 oz. previously 2.91 now 3.02
> City Cow Cheddar Cheese Bar 4 oz. previously 1.80 now 1.92
> Mild Pickle previously 0.72 now 0.82
> Cactus Annie Flour Tortillas previously 1.43 now 1.53
> Hormel Spam 3 oz. pouch previously 1.56 now 1.64
> Cool Ranch & Nacho Cheese Doritos previously 2.28 now 2.36
> Peanut Butter Cookies previously 0.85 now 0.92
> Market Square Bakery Vanilla Wafers 16 oz. previously 1.52 now 1.64
> Saltine Crackers previously 1.69 now 1.79
> Golden Valley Snack Crackers previously 2.73 now 3.30
> Austin Cheese on Cheese Crackers previously 0.36 now 0.41
> Zippy Mega Bun previously 0.71 now 0.77
> Moon Lodge Pretzels 11 oz. previously 1.93 now 2.00
> Cactus Annie 11 oz. chips previously 2.17 now 2.26
> Cactus Annie 1.5 oz. chips previously 0.39 now 0.43 +4 cents
> 12 oz. Pepsi products previously 0.44 now 0.49
> Maxwell House Coffee 4 oz. previously 4.20 now 4.31
> Powdered Milk previously 4.20 now 4.31 +11 cents
> Next 1 Sports Bar 5 oz. previously 0.97 now 1.05
> All Laundry Detergent previously 0.48 now 0.58
> Hydrocortisone Cream previously1.52 now 1.66
> Antifungal Cream previously 1.65 now 1.73
> Chap-et Lip Balm previously 1.23 now 1.30
> SPF 30 Sun Block previously 3.60 now 3.78
> Good Sense Fiber Pills 90 ct. previously 7.73 now 8.14
> Generic Oral Gel .33 oz. previously 1.77 now 1.86
> Cough Syrup - Non DM previously 2.25 now 2.37
> Beano Gas Relief 30 ct. previously 7.08 now 7.44
> Flavored Calcium Tablets 150 ct. previously 4.29 now 4.51
> Rolaids - 3 Roll Pack previously 3.12 now 3.28
> Generic Zantac 30 ct. previously 5.16 now 5.43
> Fish Oil Tablets previously 10.62 now 11.17
> Nasal Spray previously 2.20 now 2.31
> Daily Multivitamins - No Iron previously 3.43 now 3.61 

"Prayer Cross" By Blind Inmate Minor Junior Smith

O Lord,my
God, I beg
Thy mercy.
When men call the truth lies. I
understand. I could give half
a dozen reasons why I confessed
but You know. I desired to, Lord!
Truthful justice must be served.
I read what
was done to
Uriah for a wife,
by David, thy
servant, in
As a tramp,
I am saved
by the dark
cross for
the stupid
crimes in 
Bedford I
I also pray
that I serve
Jesus rightfully
I ask in His
Name. Amen

Friday, September 7, 2018

Faith Is Worthless Without Works Of Charity

In order to know what kind of "works" this Sunday's James 2
lectionary text is referring to, we need only look at the context.

"Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."  
- James 2:15-17 (NIV)

Judging by the context, the "works" spoken of here are not simply things like tithing, praying or going to church, but have to do with acts of generosity toward the poor. 

The first part of the passage is about never showing partiality toward the well-to-do and well dressed over those who live in poverty. The rich, James write, are typically exploiting the poor rather than observing the royal law of 'loving our needy neighbors as ourselves' by showing mercy toward them.

This is followed by the specific example of our extending mercy toward those who are hungry, homeless and lacking clothing, as in the text above.

The writer of this pastoral letter is believed to be the biological brother of Jesus, whose first words in his first "Sermon on the Mount" were "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," and whose ministry was largely devoted to serving people in need (In the Luke parallel passage it is simply "Blessed are the poor" and "Woe to the rich").

"Show me your faith without such deeds," James goes on to say, "and I will demonstrate my faith by what I do." So it's not simply a matter of faith and works, but a faith that works, and works to alleviate the suffering of those in poverty.

So let's look for opportunities serve those next door, but also respond to needs worldwide. For example:
According to Jesus, it's an investment in the everlasting Corporation of Heaven.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

How Shepherds Provide The Best Food Ever

What can shepherds teach us about how to "feed" a flock?
As a long time pastor, I've heard my share of people expressing a need to feel well "fed" in their weekly services. The very word pastor means shepherd, and the main responsibility they see shepherds having is providing them good spiritual nourishment on a  regular basis.

But just how is that best accomplished?

In the minds of many, it involves having special persons in the congregation, usually under the leadership of an ordained pastor, preparing appealing and nourishing fare in the form of well chosen hymns and a well crafted 20-25-minute sermon every Sunday morning (or at least whenever it's convenient for them to attend). Congregants are expected to line up in orderly rows each week as consumers of this fine menu.

But do Biblical shepherds normally bring well-prepared bales and bushels of food to feeding troughs, or do they lead sheep to good pastures where they actively graze together? And should spiritual nourishment come in the form of a buffet prepared by a team of professional chefs or more in the form of a carry-in meal, where each member is prepared to bring a Spirit-inspired "psalm or hymn, a word of instruction or encouragement, a revelation, an ecstatic utterance or an interpretation"?

Most members come to services with a consumer mentality, and rate their Sunday experience by how interesting or inspirational they find the morning sermon. If it doesn't get a five-star rating, they are prone to shop around for a congregation that will offer them a better product and a more emotionally satisfying spiritual experience of feeling truly well fed. For many, good ratings are based on whether what they hear reinforces their already set beliefs and biases.

This reminds me of a story I read as a child called "The Best Food In The World." It was about a young prince who was not doing well because he had little appetite for the royal fare prepared for him every day. As I recall the tale, the king offered a handsome reward for anyone who could come up with "the best food in the world," delicacies his son simply wouldn't be able to resist, and thus having him begin to thrive and grow. But no one in the kingdom, try as they may, was able to come up with a dish that appealed to the young prince's tastes.

Finally a peasant couple offered to help, but with the provision that he come live with them for a time. In desperation, the king consented. The couple simple engaged him in their everyday life, with lots of fresh air and outdoor work activities that were part of their daily routine. All of which contributed to his gaining the kind of appetite that made him hungry for the simple and nutritious daily meals they enjoyed together around their family table.

Which indeed proved to be the best food in the world.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

All Of God's Children Are Multi-Colored

Chocolate, mocha, autumn, sand and tan are among the many shades of color shown on this Benjamin Moore paint chart.
"Black and white are the blandest colors in the crayon box," notes humorist Sam Adams. "Fortunately, rather than our simply being either black or white," he adds, "we all have a true color, " and suggests we find a color chart at a paint store to find out what our actual color is.

Marcia and Millie Biggs are twins.
As confirmed in an article in the April 2018 issue of the National Geographic, "race is not a biological construct, but a social one that can have devastating effects." And writer Elizabeth Kolbert is quoted as saying, "So many of the horrors of the past few centuries can be traced to the idea that one race is inferior to another."

In a related piece we learn that it was Samuel Morton, a doctor in Philadelphia in the 19th century, who first came up with the theory that people can be divided into five races, representing five distinct acts of creation. According to Morton, the most intelligent of these was the so-called Caucasian race, followed by East Asians ("Mongolian"), followed by Southeast Asians, and at the bottom of the list, Native Americans and then "Blacks", or "Ethiopians".

Of course, all of this has been completely debunked, and Craig Venter, a pioneer of DNA sequencing, states unequivocally, "The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis."

Interestingly, the continent of Africa has far more genetic diversity within it than whatever genetic differences African-born people have with people from other parts of the world.

The Bible never categorizes people by race or skin color. The apostle Paul states, "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, but Christ is all, and in all,"  and affirms that "(God) has made of one blood all nations living on the face of the earth."

Let's celebrate the multiple shades of color and unique features of all of our fellow human beings, each incomparably beautiful and special,

And thankfully, not one of them is either black or white.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Guestpost: Let's Hire A Community Justice Planner

Lady Justice towers over the Court House
in Harrisonburg
This excellent op ed piece by Ruth Stoltzfus Jost appeared in the Daily News-Record yesterday, and is posted here with her permission. Check the link below to see how you can help promote this idea in our community:

On October 15 Harrisonburg Rockingham’s Community Criminal Justice Board (CCJB) could take a big step toward reducing incarceration and recidivism that cost us heavily in dollars and harm to families.  Made up of local criminal justice agencies and community stakeholders, CCJB will consider recommending that local officials hire a community justice planner. After all, we've spent $20 million to buy into Middle River Regional Jail (on top of our regular $10 million annual jail budget). With our numbers escalating, we're headed for  overcrowding again.

Why should we hire a Community Justice Planner?  To see, go to drug court any Thursday at 1 p.m. You'll find a group of repeat drug offenders facing serious prison time that could cost taxpayers millions. Instead, they report weekly to a judge who is committed to getting them drug free, despite relapses. It's grueling for them, especially since we lack affordable long term or residential drug treatment they desperately need, but successful graduates can get sentences reduced or eliminated, saving us all money and helping rebuild lives.

Why do we have a drug court today?  Because last year Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst and Judge Bruce Albertson did tremendous work to submit a grant application to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, leveraging local city and county matching funds.  

Or talk to our law enforcement officers who've had Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) in utilizing mental health interventions instead of force to defuse dangerous situations.  Another grant-funded program that ultimately saves money and benefits families of troubled persons.

Criminal justice systems are staggeringly complex, with law enforcement, prosecution, incarceration, probation, all under various local, state and federal agencies.   A justice planner with broad criminal justice experience can work with each, using data analysis to find their needs, then do the complex technical job of writing major grants. (Grants more than pay for the planner’s salary.)

State, federal, and private sources offer many grants to help communities reduce incarceration. They're funding jail overcrowding solution studies, restorative justice for juveniles, assessments of reentry housing needs.  Also “community service” programs with automated assignment capabilities to help people work off court costs successfully. They’ve helped over 400 police departments nationwide use non-arrest pathways to treatment, like Glouster, Va.'s “Angel Program” where addicts can self-refer by walking into a police station for help.   

Our political representatives did right when they choose not to spend $60 - 80 million on a jail, locking us into costly and ineffective responses to most crime.  We know we can't build our way out of jail overcrowding but now we need to move forward expeditiously with proven alternatives. Our local Reentry Council has offered its expertise to the CCJB’s deliberations.  The Valley Justice Coalition and the 26 churches with Faith in Action are urging this step. With the help of a planner to assist our community criminal justice board, we can analyze our data, confer with our criminal justice agencies, carefully plan, and implement real improvements to our criminal justice system. 

I hope we do it.

Local folks can check out the link below and scroll down to "Do  Your Part" to see how you can help promote this: