Monday, October 29, 2018

Countering Holocaust By Supporting HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)

Hatred of this Jewish organization appears to have been a
major motivation for the alleged killer Robert Bower's
recent rampage.

"HIAS likes to bring immigrants in to kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered... I'm going in."
- Robert Bower's post on social media just before the killing of 11 people at the Tree of Life Jewish congregation October 27

The Jewish people have a long history of enduring enslavement, persecutions, pogroms, holocausts and forced migrations that goes all the way back to Exodus. Little wonder that they have a heart for people everywhere who experience similar traumas.

In 1881 the organization which later became known HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) was formed in Manhattan to offer help to Jewish refugees fleeing for their lives from anti-semitic purges in Russia and elsewhere. In the years since, they have helped literally millions of Jews emigrating to this country.

In 1975 the US State Department asked HIAS to help with the resettlement of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodian refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. In that year alone HIAS found homes for over 3,600 in 150 communities in 38 states. This marked the organization becoming even more deeply involved in helping needy refugees of all faiths and nationalities, a tradition it carries on today.

One of the ways we can show our support for the Jewish community in mourning in Pittsburgh and elsewhere is to contribute to HIAS and other organizations that "Welcome the stranger" and "Protect the Refugee."

P. S. Check this link for some good news that came out of this tragedy.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

"Go Down, Death, And Bring Her To Me"

Brenda Joyce (Beachy) Miller 1/26/41-10/22/18

Alma Jean and I attended a moving memorial service for 77-year-old Brenda Beachy Miller this afternoon. She was the loving wife of Dave Miller, who with their five children were good friends and members of our former congregation, Zion Mennonite, near Broadway. They had since moved to Florida to care for her parents, but recently returned to the area. Brenda was diagnosed with cancer right after attending their granddaughter's wedding here in August.

Brenda was an an active, gracious and committed follower of Jesus who will be greatly missed by all of the people she blessed, especially through her gifts of hospitality and service. 

I was reminded today of James Weldon Johnson's tribute to a "sister Caroline" in one of his Negro sermons in verse, "Go Down, Death." One could substitute the poem's references to her name and place for Brenda's in the fourth verse, as in "Go down to Timberville, Virginia, down in Rockingham County, and find sister Brenda.

I post Johnson's piece here in her memory:

Weep not, weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart-broken husband--weep no more;
Grief-stricken son--weep no more;
Left-lonesome daughter --weep no more;
She only just gone home.

Day before yesterday morning,
God was looking down from his great, high heaven,
Looking down on all his children,
And his eye fell of Sister Caroline,
Tossing on her bed of pain.
And God's big heart was touched with pity,
With the everlasting pity.

And God sat back on his throne,
And he commanded that tall, bright angel standing at his right hand:
Call me Death!
And that tall, bright angel cried in a voice
That broke like a clap of thunder:
Call Death!--Call Death!
And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven
Till it reached away back to that shadowy place,
Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.

And Death heard the summons,
And he leaped on his fastest horse,
Pale as a sheet in the moonlight.
Up the golden street Death galloped,
And the hooves of his horses struck fire from the gold,
But they didn't make no sound.
Up Death rode to the Great White Throne,
And waited for God's command.

And God said: Go down, Death, go down,
Go down to Savannah, Georgia,
Down in Yamacraw,
And find Sister Caroline.
She's borne the burden and heat of the day,
She's labored long in my vineyard,
And she's tired--
She's weary--
Do down, Death, and bring her to me.

And Death didn't say a word,
But he loosed the reins on his pale, white horse,
And he clamped the spurs to his bloodless sides,
And out and down he rode,
Through heaven's pearly gates,
Past suns and moons and stars;
on Death rode,
Leaving the lightning's flash behind;
Straight down he came.

While we were watching round her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn't see;
She saw Old Death.She saw Old Death
Coming like a falling star.
But Death didn't frighten Sister Caroline;
He looked to her like a welcome friend.
And she whispered to us: I'm going home,
And she smiled and closed her eyes.

And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn't feel no chill.
And death began to ride again--
Up beyond the evening star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Caroline
On the loving breast of Jesus.

And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a-saying: Take your rest,
Take your rest.

Weep not--weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Putting Our "Putting Off" Abilities To Good Use

"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."  
- Stephen Covey

As something of a procrastinator myself, I had a light bulb moment some time ago. I realized that the reason I wasn't getting some important things done was because I wasn't good enough at "putting things off."

Example #1: I'm at work, and need to finish writing up my session notes for the day. As I prepare to do so, I recall I haven't checked my emails lately, which then leads to my also checking my Facebook page while I'm at it. And there's a phone call I need to make about a medical appointment. Then I note I have a voice message on my phone requesting some information. I return the call. A half hour has gone by, and I haven't even gotten started, because I failed to put off my less-important-for-now items.

Example #2: I have an early morning meeting, followed by a busy day at work, so I plan to get ready for bed by 10 pm in order to get a needed good night of sleep. In addition to some prayer time with Alma Jean, I usually do some other reading before settling down for the night. The book I'm into is really interesting. Instead of stopping at chapter's end, I decide to read just one more. Then another. Before I realize it, it's past 11 pm.

Example #3: I have friends at a nearby retirement community I like to stop by to see about every other week. So on one of my days off I add that to my to do list. But there's also some outside work that should be done sometime, so I start on a couple of those projects first. For one of these, I need something at the hardware store. On my way I decide to stop at the Conference Center to get our house church's mail. There I check about an upcoming seminar I might want to register for. And, oh, there are a couple of grocery items I may as well pick up on the way, too, that I'm pretty sure we need. The day slips by. Maybe I can make my VMRC visit some other time. 


So here's my point. We get to decide on any given day what we see as the main thing(s) we want to give priority to. In order to accomplish them, other things must be postponed or placed lower on our priority list. Our success depends on our putting off those things we decide are secondary. On another day, of course, they may well deserve to be on one of our "main things" list.

In summary, we have the gift of 24-hours a day to get everything done that's really important and needed, including getting enough rest and exercise. One "main thing" at a time.

The rest can wait.

An Emergency Need At My Place Of Work

Family Life Resource Center is a faith-based, non-profit counseling agency where I have been privileged to work for over thirty years. Our current facility, a former home built over 100 years ago, is one we've enjoyed since 2000, and is on Newman Avenue in Harrisonburg. Our mission is to offer "health, hope and healing" to any individuals and families in our community who are in need of our services.

Upon inspection of FLRC's heating units this fall, it was discovered our chimney had collapsed, leaving no venting for the carbon monoxide from our boiler unit that we use for heat. The cost of this repair was astronomical and involves an aging boiler heating system that itself could go any day.  

It has been strongly suggested by multiple contractors that we replace the unit. Meanwhile, the main building currently has NO central heat (only space heaters) until we get this repaired! The estimated cost of this is $16,500. 

Would you be willing to help us install this kind of heating unit? You can donate at or call the agency at 540-434-8450 to have our receptionist take your gift over the phone during office hours Monday-Thursdays from 8:30 am-4:30 pm. Or if you can give by check please mail to FLRC, 273 Newman Ave, Harrisonburg, VA 22801. 

No amount is too small!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Revealing Letter From Inside A Virginia Prison

Augusta Correctional Center, Estaline Valley Road,
Craigsville, Virginia
An inmate at the nearby Augusta Correctional Center recently sent the following to his parents, who are friends of ours. We print it here with their son's permission:

October 7, 2018
I welcomed the return of the glorious sun this past week after the endless rainfall we've endured this summer. This past week I've basked in its warmth while working out, and the drier weather is beginning to lower the humidity in our cells where I've battled to keep envelopes from sticking together and the paper from wanting to become warped and rippled. Let’s hope the colder temperatures on the way do not collide with the rains that may continue or else there will be lots of school missed and roads to navigate that may keep visitors away from Estaline Valley.

I have called this little valley my residence for the last eight years and yet I often don't feel much a part of this community. Even when I attend church here I feel somewhat of a misfit because my journey includes a heritage of faith very dissimilar from what I experience here. No matter how much my heart is in tune with the songs and sermons I hear each week, others probably perceive me as disconnected. I would confess that my most spiritual moments of those evenings are the walk to and from the dining hall where I am privileged to look up and see the moon and stars twinkling or glowing bright in the black night that is aglow from the orange security lights that light my pathway. What a privilege it will be some day to look upon a midnight black sky in its awesome natural state untainted by man’s created lights. 

The pastor we affectionately call 'Amen Denny' because he is continually saying the word Amen in our prison services was as animated as you could imagine last night. He is an older man in the generation we define as golden who has been serving the Lord here for over 30 years, ever since this facility opened. I know most of his stories and sermons by heart and he closes each service with some semblance of an alter call. My heritage finds that to be an unnecessary weekly event because salvation doesn’t have to move oneself physically from the back of the service to the front. It is a matter of the heart, and yet I move to the front when he includes a gathering of people who need prayer for life’s trials and physical issues. It is obvious that he wants us all to be included in the kingdom and his heart is in the right place.

Last night we marched around the dining hall to raise walls of protection for those being attacked by things that discourage us on our journey. His brief message was out of the story of David’s journey and with his adversaries Saul and Goliath. What the pastor gleaned from the story had more to do with Saul, and the truth that God desires our obedience over the sacrifices made under the law for our failures.

Those of you who are steeped in the stories of David and Saul know how often they were in conflict with each other due to Saul’s jealousy of David’s relationship with God. I believe you could argue that Saul was a far more difficult Goliath in David’s life than the actual Philistine he was able to dispatch because of God’s power within him. 

Goliaths come in all shapes and sizes and they may not always take the form of a man. For eight years now I have lived within a system we call the DOC (Department of Corrections), a Goliath that I have watched intensely for almost a decade now. Much like David, I have hidden in the shadows and kept away from engaging in conflict the way David did with Saul. My silence has come at a great cost as I continue to see changes in policy that affect me.

Marching around that room last night was sort of a catalyst for me to begin writing out some of my feelings and emotions that others may define as opinion-based and not based in fact. There are facts, however, that cannot be disputed, and there are policies going into effect that will never change the facts or statistics of this experience. Cause and effect relationships are impacting the rehabilitation process far more than the contraband that does get inside these walls of steel, stone and twisted wire. Perhaps what I am writing will be seen as a tirade of sorts or a venting of emotions, but I assure you I have been processing each word I am writing, praying that God gives me the words I write. I am also praying that those of you who know me will keep me in your prayers and pray for the wall of protection we marched for last evening.

I will be so bold as to say that contraband entering the prisons can serve at least one useful purpose and that is to show which inmates are making positive changes in their lives and which are not making such changes. The DOC, our Goliath, labels such behaviors as correctional changes. Such inmates reject participation in contraband activities and take educational courses, do quality work for which they are paid a small wage, and seek to live uprightly which can reduce their sentence by 15 percent. I would also suggest that the DOC grant a greater percentage reduction in sentences for good behavior and attempts to learn new skills and do quality work which prepares inmates to re-enter their communities as productive citizens.

The DOC has a motto or mission statement that hangs in the visitation room. It reads: Talking together – Thinking together – Learning together – Finding common ground – Creating new meaning – Suspending judgment as we dialogue together. 
This statement suggests the DOC, the Goliath, cares about connecting us offenders with our loved ones and ultimately the community, but all the recent changes in visitation procedures have only limited our access to those we love and the communities we hope to be a part of again one day. I believe Goliath needs to rewrite what the purpose of visitation is in their view.

Personally it is no longer the experience it once was. It has become a source of ionized radiation [via a full body scan] for those I love who are mostly in their 80s and do not need one more health risk added to their lives. It has become a place of physical violation of their personal space including feeling physically violated by members of their own sex who may or may not have opposite sexual orientation. Who would know? I would ask the question, At what age is it appropriate to assume that a child is able to endure the procedures witnessed in this place and the ones [that may come] we are unaware of?

The facility has been in the paper several times this year for various issues pertaining to the ability to staff the facility adequately. I can attest to the fact that there are grave issues here with keeping the proper number of officers here at a given time. I would be of the opinion that often this facility is managed on a daily basis with less than the number of officers recommended. You will, however, never get me to believe that some recent incidents were caused by the lack of officers. There is no doubt that the place is a necessary part of our society, but I despise being lumped into a group as a whole. On a camp that has a majority of sexually deviant offenders it should have been obvious that one such offender should have annual evaluations done in a secure location when being treated by a female counselor.

What has been left out of local news and papers is the effect this lack of officers is having on us as offenders. To manage the shortage, Goliath is bringing in officers from other facilities. It may fill the vacancies but it is becoming a more volatile place to live here, especially if you are of the majority and are a sex offender. Officers filling booth positions that manage the entryways of our pods are never here long enough to learn who lives in what pod and who is out of place. This leads to guys being able to sneak about stealing and extorting from sex offenders and moving contraband pod to pod. 

Recently in my own pod a man had a television stolen out of his room while he was at work, and another young man was beaten up in the pod by someone connected to someone he owned money to. I have tried to help staff see systemic problems in the past leaving out individual offenders [names]. There are plenty of snitches here they can get specific names from. For eight years I have seen very few changes that work because no one will invest the time it takes to see the things I see. There are not enough officers to see the things I see, but perhaps no one cares.

I hope it is an issue with being over tasked. I believe being over tasked will continue to be a problem at this facility. I have great respect for all but a few of the officers who walk this beat everyday. Unlike most of the men here, I realize that their duties include protecting the disadvantaged here. I do not see this as a conflict between us and them, like most guys here. I am on a road of corrections, but it is a path that is getting more difficult with each passing policy, policies that are causing good staff to leave this facility. Not only officers are choosing to leave because of dysfunctions in the policies but other staff that some of us value, good people dedicated to teaching us the skills we need beyond our desert journeys… leaving because they too are fearful of the ionized radiation they are being subjected to everyday as they enter to be engaged in our lives.

I understand that Goliath doesn’t want to be sued by someone’s family when their loved one dies in here because of the drugs they overdose on. I would challenge family and friends to be more aware of what your offender is doing with his life in here. Ask yourself if you are making sacrifices in your life to give them enough support financially to support a drug addiction in prison. Be engaged enough in your own offender’s life to know what his/her needs are in a place like his. I assure you they are few. I believe with all my heart if all parties affected by these issues participate in productive conversation that somewhere there is a better place to be. A place where the sign in the visitation room [saying they are trying to make it a better place for visitors to meet with offenders] has meaning, and we as offenders and you as the public can believe it is the purpose of the Virginia Department of Corrections.

On current pace I have about 12 years left to endure my correction. I want them to be a better 12 years than what I have endured since this drug, whoops, contraband interdiction policy and practice. My heritage includes making meals together, and fellowship is defined by the sharing of a meal. I want my friends to visit without fear of being groped to the point of being violated. I want to wear a pair of blue jeans and a denim shirt to feel a sense of dignity for the few hours I spent with my family. I do not think it is too much to ask and I think it is possible to see things again the way they once were because it all has impact on the process of our rehabilitation and the way we live while we wait to go home. I believe if our route towards change had better defined goals and ways to gauge the progress it would be easier to find men and women to work here because they could believe in that purpose and find some fulfillment in their work.

At this moment it just feels like chaos regardless if you are staff or offender. I can report a staff viewpoint because I hear it all the time from them as they must work over [hours], or on their days off. 

I covet your prayers of protection and I may write to you next or see you in Timbuktu if Goliath chooses to “slay” me for what I speak out about. I believe somewhere in the story of Saul and David is the point that obedience to God and to what you believe does require sacrifice. I am ready for the suffering if they so choose.


Your kingdom companion, highway sojourner and fact-driven “fool” who still hopes positive change is possible.

B. Brubaker #1315055

Monday, October 22, 2018

Hasn't Something Like This Happened Before?

Thousands of men, women and children are fleeing corrupt,
violent and gang-ridden Central American nations.
"The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth. There were about 600,000 men on foot, besides women and children." 
- Exodus 12:37

This week we are witnessing an unprecedented migration of people fleeing for their lives from one of the poorest and most violence-ridden countries in the world, Honduras. I can't help thinking of similarities between their plight and that of the Israelites deprived of their freedom and in fear of their future under Egyptian Pharaohs many years ago.

In this case the 'Pharaoh' is a corrupt and drug-infested government of a nation that has a higher poverty rate than that of Haiti. Teen age girls and boys are in particular danger of being raped and pressured to cooperate with drug cartels, with precious little protection from Honduran police. Unemployment is at a record high, and wages for those who are working are among the lowest in the world. 

But this isn't a case of people simply looking for better economic opportunity. Most of these migrants' very lives are in danger.

On our side of the border we have a choice. Will we work with our neighbors to the south to help provide reasonable protection and better opportunities for them, and by investing in "cities of refuge" on both sides of the border? Or will be like the Philistines in the biblical story who do everything we can to keep them from 'invading' the very part of our West we once invaded and conquered as Mexican-held territory?

Historically, God has always been on the side of needy refugees rather than on the side of world powers who have shunned them.

Here's one historical perspective

Friday, October 19, 2018

Seven Things That Must Make God Furious

No, it's not about God having an anger problem. It's about God
loving and deeply caring for all creation.
Most of us don't like to hear anything about God's wrath, but here's where I see our Creator having some serious outrage, as follows:

1. World Hunger

Please understand that I created a fertile earth with the capacity for producing plenty of food for billions of inhabitants. So I can't stand seeing children starving when I've made "every seed bearing plant and every tree producing fruit" available to satisfy everyone's needs. Yet some of you keep on feasting and "faring sumptuously every day" while others can never be sure where their next meal is coming from. This must stop.

2. A Polluted Planet

I gave you--as humans made in my image--a clear mandate to take good care of this precious earth. But you've exploited and wasted its resources on all kinds of stuff you don't need, then treated the planet, its soil, its rivers and oceans, and the atmosphere surrounding it, as if it were an open sewer in which you could dump all the carbon, coal and plastic waste you wished with no thought for tomorrow. You insist on having far more meat in your diet than you need (remember the seed bearing plants and the fruit producing trees I gave you for food?), resulting in vitally needed rain forests being destroyed largely to produce cheap grain for livestock to satisfy your cravings. This is only one of the human factors that contribute to the oceans becoming warmer and the ice caps melting, with all of the disastrous consequences that follow. But in your pursuit of ever more comfort, convenience and irresponsible consumption, you who are privileged refuse to take responsibility for being a part of the top 10% of the world's wealthiest people who keep creating half of the world's trash and pollution.

3. War

I can't tell you how I detest the warmongering going on all over the globe. For centuries I've had my prophets ramp up the "study war no more" theme in their preaching, and then made my shalom message abundantly clear through Jesus and his first century followers. Instead of taking up their swords, they laid them down and chose to take up Jesus' cross instead.
So hear me, the day of people arming themselves to carry out my will on earth is over. Done. There are no "just wars" of any kind I'm willing to support. They're all just wars, period--increasingly barbaric, callously murderous and unthinkably immoral. Remember, your enemies are not your fellow humans, but the dark forces that motivate them to bomb, maim and brutalize their fellow human beings. So never, ever engage in any of this heartless carnage and claim to be doing it in my name or for my sake.

4. Disparity Between Rich And Poor

Many of you pray every day that God's will be done "on earth as it is in heaven." Surely you know that where I have my headquarters there are no separate sections for rich and poor. And no citizens of my eternal kingdom will ever be enjoying all kinds of luxuries while others are begging for bread. So in order to get ready for how things are going to be in the future, you need to keep selling and giving away your surplus stuff, both for the sake of helping the poor and for the sake of freeing yourselves from the chokehold the god Mammon has on your life. Remember the rule about "You shall have no other gods before me?" It's in my list of Top Ten commandments.

5. Homelessness

In one of my first acts as Creator, I prepared a beautiful place, Eden, for humans to make their home and to take care of. And in the end, I'm seeing to it that all my people have a forever home where they can live in peace and safety. But today there is nearly one in ten men, women, and children on earth who have been driven from their homes by human-caused famine, war and other forms of violence And there are millions of others who live in shacks and in slums unfit for human habitation. There are also people being released from jails and prisons who can't find landlords who will rent to them. And rich nations are turning desperate people away from their borders. This is simply not acceptable.

6. Disunity and Divisions

The millions of you who claim to be children of Abraham keep dividing yourselves into liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, each assuming you are superior to those on the other side. I hate that. Again, in the after life there aren't going to be different sections for different sects of my people. Remember how Jesus prayed that all his followers would be one? I approve that message, and am grieved beyond belief at how people have taken things in such opposite, multi-splintered directions.

7. Torture and Abuse

It breaks my heart to see anyone, anywhere, at any time being physically, verbally, sexually or psychologically abused. I never created innocent children to be neglected and traumatized. Nor did I create women and girls--or boys--to be harassed, exploited and raped. And I never dreamed of parents being forcibly separated from their sons and daughters, or children and teens being used and abused as sex slaves or child workers. You'll never know how much all of that offends and angers me, not because I'm by nature vengeful or wrathful, but because I love and deeply care about all I have created.
Wouldn't you feel the same?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Mixed Feelings About Mennonite Relief Sales

Our fall Virginia Relief Sale is projected to bring in a record total of around $370,000!
The first Mennonite Relief Sale was held near Morgantown, Pennsylvania, in 1957. Since then some 40 of them have sprung up all over the US and Canada, raising over $4 million each year for the worldwide outreach of Mennonite Central Committee. These events engage thousands of hardworking volunteers each year who invest tons of time and energy and provide for great annual get togethers that attract thousands of participants from all faiths and backgrounds.

It's hard to argue with that kind of success, but is it also OK to raise some questions?

1. The Rational Strategy Question

On the one hand, is there something incongruous about so many well fed and well-to-do people (who already have far more material possessions than they need) getting together with such a high level of motivation to buy even more things to eat and to find space for--all in order to help people who don't have enough food and other life necessities?

Yet on the other hand, what other event gets so many people of compassion and goodwill together for such a good cause? It's a rare phenomenon at so many levels, and one that draws attention to world needs as few events do.

2. The WWJD Question

On the one hand, it's hard to imagine Jesus or any of his first century followers going about raising money for relief needs in this way. When a famine in Judea caused suffering for people there, the apostle Paul simply instructed house church congregations in far away Asia Minor to take up generous collections at their gatherings on the first day of each week to help them out. He then had a trusted delegation deliver the gift to needy folks in places very far away (comparable to the other side of the world for us). No committees were formed, no fundraisers were held, and no glossy fliers or posters were circulated, but there was an outpouring of response.

Yet on the other hand, can we not come up with creative strategies that might work better in our culture and in our times?

What do you think?


P. S. One modest proposal would be to plan an additional event, maybe in the Spring, that could be called a Mennonite Relief "Sell-athon," based on the Acts 2:44-45 precedent of people selling their possessions to share with others in need. This kind of "Sell-ebration" could also include having varieties of foods served that poor people from around the world regularly eat, along with having auctions and multiple yard sale tables of things congregations and individuals would bring in order to declutter and reduce their supply of material possessions. There would also be a big giving table set up as well for monetary gifts people have saved for that purpose, with all proceeds going to help others in need. This event could also be a time to fill truck loads of health kits, comforters and other items for MCC's distribution warehouse.

Just an idea.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

When Are We Being "Too Political"?

Should Christians have remained silent when the enslavement of people was legal?

Many of us agree that partisan politics are not what the church should be about, period. What followers of Jesus are called to instead is to urge repentance of sin and injustice wherever and whenever it is found, and to invite others to join us in living and proclaiming a life of faith and faithfulness together. This means the church is driven by the mission statement of Jesus, who came preaching good news to the poor and to the enslaved and imprisoned, and to announce the arrival of "the year of God's favor", ushering in salvation and Jubilee justice for all who are oppressed--by their own sin and as a result of the sins of others. 

I was recently moved by the book Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce's lifelong effort to end the slave trade in Britain. He worked tirelessly at this, but not because he wanted to advance a particular political party in England, but because the lives of thousands of human beings were at stake, as was the witness of a majority of English citizens who claimed to be Christian. In our own community here in the Valley, it meant local Mennonites refusing to vote for secession in the 1860's, even though some were hounded and persecuted for not doing so. It also meant their refusing to fight for the Confederate cause, and for their fellow Mennonites in the North, it meant not joining the Union military effort to destroy the South either. 

In the era of segregation, it meant many Christians, some Mennonites and Brethren included, speaking out in favor of of integrating schools and lunch counters and water fountains and public transportation, all things I well remember here in Virginia, when the state engaged in a massive resistance campaign against African-Americans being allowed in the same schools as European-Americans. 

More recently, many of us have become more focused on reducing the number of abortions in this country, which also may have us speak to people in positions of political power, but not necessarily by aligning ourselves with any political party in doing so. Many of my friends do see one political party as being much better than the other as a means through which they hope to see abortions made illegal and to have them become criminalized. Other of my friends see more hope in policies promoted by a party which offers more health care and education that includes helping people avoid unplanned pregnancies (based on the argument that abortion rates have tended to go down more significantly under more progressive administrations since Roe v. Wade). 

But neither political party will ever eliminate abortion. And sincere people will likely always debate which ballot choice, if any will prove to be more pro-life in the long run, and at all levels. This includes asking what position we take regarding the nation investing ever more billions in ever more efficient and horrific military means of killing the already born (including pregnant women and their babies). 

But this nation is not where we hold our primary citizenship. We are resident aliens, members of "colonies of heaven" which demonstrate what life on earth would be like if people truly lived as though God were in supreme command.

So the reason I'm against aligning myself with earth-based political systems is that I believe we are members of the Party of the Kingdom of Heaven led by Jesus himself, and that no earth-bound nation will ever, ever even come close to living out the plain teaching of Jesus we are called to demonstrate and preach. Here's a link someone recently sent me that I found helpful in this respect

Meanwhile, I feel compelled to call on local and state officials to look for alternatives to incarceration for offenders who are not a danger to their communities, and to release deserving parolees who have actually demonstrated that they have been "corrected" after decades of good behavior in a Department of Corrections facility. In doing so, I have often been accused of being "too political," even though I have no abiding interest in which party the officials I address are affiliated with, only in the lives and souls of human beings who are in need of help to recover from their addictions and to repent and make restitution for their past bad behaviors. 

I continue to resonate with the words of 16th century reformer Menno Simons:

"Love compels us to respectfully and humbly show all high officials what the Word of God commands them, how they should rightfully execute their office to the glory and praise of God... to punish the transgressors and protect the good; to judge rightly between a man and his fellows; to do justice to the widows and orphans and to the poor, to rule cities and countries justly by a good policy and administration, not contrary to God’s Word but to the benefit of the common people."

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Come Walk With Us October 15!

 The following Open Forum piece was submitted to the Daily News-Record by Jim Orndoff of the local Valley Justice Coalition:

Thanks to the initiative taken by Bill Kyger, chair of our Community Criminal Justice Board (and others), local citizens concerned about ways of improving our Harrisonburg/Rockingham County justice system are invited to a community meeting with the CCJB on Monday, October 15, 7 pm at JMU’s Memorial Hall (former Harrisonburg High School). 

Presenters will be Kathy Rowings of the National  Association of Counties, and Neal Goodloe, Criminal Justice Planner of the Jefferson Area CCJB, each speaking on best practices known to reduce the number of non-violent inmates in local jails and to help offenders become productive, tax-paying  members of their communities.  

Groups like Faith in Action, a coalition of 26 local congregations, Valley Justice Coalition, Northeast Neighborhood Association and other city/county groups are encouraged by this development, and are urging all interested local residents to attend. Translation services will be available.

As a show of community support, a 6 pm gathering has been planned at the parking lot between Otterbein United Methodist Church and Community Mennonite Church (along South High Street) to walk together past our local jail, along Liberty Street to MLK Way and on to Memorial Hall.

Come walk with us…

…If you want to support our community in becoming an outstanding model for best criminal justice practices in the Commonwealth and beyond.

…If you agree with our Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst that jails should become more like a greenhouse for helping inmates to gain more positive attitudes and better skills for a successful reentry, and not just be warehouses for purposes of punishment.

…If you would like to see our community trend toward the use of more Restorative Justice practices, where the needs of victims are a primary consideration, and which works at concrete ways for offenders to actually make restitution for their wrongs. 

…If you support creative alternatives to incarceration that are already in place, like the new Drug Court program, made possible through the efforts of people like Judge Bruce Albertson and Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst.  

…If you would like to see an alternative for already stressed families to the 'add-on tax’ of the $1 per day ‘keep fee’ currently charged to the over 300 people in our local jail, and the $3 daily fee for inmates needing to be housed at the Middle River Jail, which now holds over 200 of our local inmates.

…If you would like to see our community engage in a careful process of hiring a Community Justice Planner to help all of the moving parts of a complex criminal justice system work together effectively, and to help come up with ways of re-investing our budgets to get the maximum benefit from our tax dollars.

…If you think the 600% increase in the number of people we have behind bars since our jail was built in 1995 is excessive in light of our population having increased only around 25% during that time.

Come walk with us!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Help Us Celebrate The Best Yard Sale Ever!

Here are some ways you can help one of my favorite causes:

1. Contribute some really nice items for Gemeinschaft Home's fall yard sale. These can be brought in anytime up to the day of the event. Call 434-1690 for more information.

2. Select some good bargains--furniture, dishes, books, art work, tools, you name it--to be found on the day of the sale. Some prices may be reduced at around noon.

3. Enjoy some early morning coffee, followed by hot dogs, chips and soft drinks served until 1 pm.

4. Make a generous cash contribution to help pay for recent renovations and for some of the unique programs and services not covered by Gemeinschaft's contract with the Department of Corrections. And for every $10 donated, you will get a chance at a 1 pm drawing for a gorgeous Mennonite made quilt valued at $400. You can invest in as many of the tickets as you wish, and can get them ahead of time or on the day of the sale. You don't even need to be present to win.

And when you contribute to Gemeinschaft Home, everybody wins.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Too Many Gospel Songs Tell Only Half The Story

What kinds of songs would Jesus encourage us to
use in our worship services? 
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast,
There by his love o'er-shaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.
Hark, 'tis the voice of angels,
Borne in a song for me,
Over the fields of glory,
Over the Jasper sea.

Safe in the arms of Jesus, 
Safe from corroding care, 
Safe from the world's temptations,
Sin cannot harm me there,
Free from the blight of sorrow,
Free from my doubts and fears;
Only a few more trials,
Only a few more tears!

Jesus, my heart's dear refuge,
Jesus has died for me;
Firm on the Rock of Ages,
Ever my trust shall be.
Here let me wait with patience,
Wait till the night is o'er;
Wait till I see the morning
Break on the golden shore.

Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on his gentle breast,
There by his love o'er shaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.

These words penned by the saintly (and blind) writer Fannie Crosby (and set to music by W. H. Doane) were among the many gospel songs I grew up singing in Life Songs Number Two, first published by the Mennonite Publishing House in 1938. We frequently sang these revival-themed numbers with our family at home and in our church's youth meetings as a teen, Christian music being a social activity actively encouraged in our very conservative congregation.

As a result I learned scores of such personal testimony songs by heart, and they still keep singing themselves in my head all these many years later. In so many ways I feel the richer for it, but I'm also increasingly aware of how much of the gospel message they tend to leave out, or even distort. Yet it never dawned on me, or any members of my family or church family, to question any of the theology they represented.

While the lyrics quoted above may be of great help and comfort for people going through severe trials and griefs, would they be even remotely close to those Jesus would have spoken to his followers as a group, or that he would have chosen to have them sing together?

For one, to associate the word safe with following the way of Jesus would have been seen as unbelievable, as would be any notion of being completely free from sorrows, doubts, fears, and trials, which doesn't even describe Jesus's own life experience. From the writer's perspective, Jesus does all the suffering and sacrificing for us. All we need to do, at least from this song's point of view, is to have Jesus tenderly hold on to us, while all we need only to trust him and to wait until it's all over.

But is that the whole story?

If Jesus is our Prophet, Priest and King, how would Crosby's message sound if it were applied to other characters in those roles in the Bible?

For example;
Safe in the arms of Prophets--like Moses, Miriam, Amos, Deborah, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah or John the Baptist.
Safe in the arms of Priests--like Aaron, Eli, Zachariah, Ananias or Caiaphas.
Safe in the arms of Kings--like Saul, David, Solomon, Josiah or Herod.

Of course being a part of the God movement does occasionally, and certainly ultimately, offer sweet rest for the soul, but that's not what the call to following Jesus is primarily about. Rather, it is about being recruited to continue the work of seeing God's will being to be done on earth as it is in heaven. It's the call to live like Jesus lived, and to carry on his mission, as in announcing good news to the poor, the oppressed, the blind, and the imprisoned. And to announce the coming of Jubilee, the 'year of the Lord's favor'.

That means God's people spending a lot of their time on their feet as well as on their knees, forever  engaged in being Jesus' kind of light to the world and the preserving salt of the earth.

As Richard Stearns writes in The Hole in Our Gospel,

"When our churches become spiritual spas in which we retreat from the world, our salt loses its saltiness, and we are no longer able to impact the culture. Morgan Chilulu, an African pastor of a small and humble church in the midst of the AIDS pandemic, once told me, 'A church that lives within its four walls is no church at all'.” 

Or Chilulu might have added, "A Christian who is focused primarily on his or her inner life with God, is not being Jesus' kind of Christian." 

Meanwhile, I see some of Fannie Crosby's songs, like the very first one in Life Songs #2, "God of Our Strength, Enthroned Above" and the hymn "To God Be The Glory", as great for congregational use. But many others, like "He Hideth My Soul", "Jesus is Mine", "Hold Thou My Hand", "Close to Thee" and "Hide Me, O My Savior Hide Me" may be better suited for personal use, with their predominance of me/my/mine language.

For other posts on this theme:

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

September 29 Memorial Service For Gerry Rush

Geraldine Wilcox Rush 1/12/42--9/17/18
I first learned to know Gerry when we were both students at Eastern Mennonite College in the early '60's, and she was an assistant dean of high school dormitory girls and I had a similar role with high school boys. Since then we both taught at Eastern Mennonite High School, have both been involved with Highland Retreat Camp and Gemeinschaft Home, and she and her husband Jim were members of Zion Mennonite Church during our twenty years there.

Both Jim and Gerry have been very supportive influences in our lives, and we were deeply saddened by the recent reoccurrence of Gerry's cancer and by her death on September 12. Hundreds of her friends and colleagues gathered for her memorial service at her beloved Zion Church near Broadway Saturday.

Here is the message brought by her pastor Mike Metzler, which he entitled, "Thinking of You."

We’re thinking of you, Gerry Rush.  We’re here today to remember your life, to grieve our loss.  
Together, we cry out to the Living God, the One who guided you, to find new purpose for our own lives in this difficult time of loss and change.
As we think of you, we remember through Jim that you were the “thinker,” Jim the “doer” in your marriage.  And we marvel together at the places you’ve been to, the people your lives touched in your 76 years of life.
One of the people your life touched was me. After your death, I went back to the blackberry patch where you led a group of us from Zion Mennonite Church during our annual retreat 2 months ago.  Your energy and sense of adventure surprised me. We walked together up the steep hill to the field at Highland and found, to our delight, that the blackberries were ripe.  We explored the patch - going deeper and deeper to find and enjoy the delicious fruit. This is how my children remember you - as the woman who led us in search of blackberries at Highland Retreat.

Stories from Gerry’s Life:
I’ve learned much about you since your death.  You were baptized as a young teen, responding publicly to God’s love, dying to yourself and receiving new life through Jesus, committing yourself to a life that responded to God’s grace through costly discipleship.  In college, you demonstrated that the family of God transcends cultural barriers by choosing to room with an African-American woman. Your actions were risky in 1959. The dean of the college met with you, attempting to dissuade you.  But your thinking mind was set. You pressed forward.
In your first year of marriage with Jim, you spent the summer in New York City at the World’s Fair.  Doing what? Day after day, you and Jim represented the Mennonite Church by interpreting a piece of modern artwork that depicted Jesus as the light of the world.  After giving birth to Amy and Jon, you decided that God was calling you to make disciples at home! So, while your children were young, you stayed home with them - investing your life in these two wonderful gifts that God gave to you and Jim.  But during summer breaks, you and Jim headed to the mountains where you both invested your lives and gifts into the camping ministries of the Church at Spruce Lake in Canadensis, PA for 8 years and down the road at Highland where you served as director for 7 years and on the board for 33 years.
Accounting was your second career.  Your thinking mind enjoyed analyzing, understanding and playing with numbers!  Though accounting was a men’s profession when you started your career, you were not only hired but also promoted as you excelled as an accountant.  Yet your legacy is how you mentored other female accountants to thrive in this profession.
During Jim’s breaks from teaching, you and Jim led your family on adventures with God.  In your mid-30s, you enjoyed 2 years teaching chemistry at a high school in Nigeria and english at a college seeking to equip pastors for ministry.  Your own life was enriched as you listened to the stories of pastors who rode their bikes marathon distances from village to village to share the good news of Jesus the Messiah.  At age 55, you served as hostess, accountant, and bookkeeper at a guesthouse in Pakistan. Here, on the border with Afghanistan, you heard stories of health workers who risked their lives going into Afghanistan and then came to the guest house for renewal.  After this, you and Jim led your family to Jerusalem where you spent 3 months studying Jesus’ life, Judaism and Islam, and the conflict over the land. Before the wall was built there, you watched from the Notre Dame study center as 1,000s of people crossed through the back gate of the school to avoid border police.
As you learned by seeing, hearing, and experiencing life in other cultures, you grew in wisdom and courage and applied this in your life back home.

Christ Glorified In Our Weaknesses:
We all know that you weren’t perfect - especially those closest to you, as is the case for all of us! Two months ago at Zion’s annual retreat, you confessed in your testimony during worship your tendency to get too busy.  You expressed your desire to slow down, to spend more time listening to God in prayer. In your confession, you gave leadership to the congregation reminding all of us that living in God’s way involves both being and doing.
In the weeks leading up to your death, I heard stories of you apologizing to your children and asking for their forgiveness of ways you felt you had not acted like Christ to them.  You called in co-workers as well, asking them to forgive you for words or actions done out of frustration rather than love. As death approached, those closest to you saw fear in your eyes.  Was this due to your medications, or were you like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane pleading with the Father to take this cup of suffering away?

Pointing Us To Jesus -
Yet even in your weakest time, we saw you pointing us to the One far greater than you, the One you followed each and every day.  
Your life was fascinated by Jesus, God in the flesh.  Your thinking mind pondered the reality of Jesus - fully human and fully divine - for your entire adult life.  Jesus captivated your imagination. Who is this light of the world? What does the Bible teach us about his life, ministry, death, and resurrection?  And how are we then called to live in the light of God’s revelation to the world?
In your last years of life in your mortal body, you borrowed two books from me: 1) How to read the Bible for all its worth, and 2) Scripture and the Authority of God: How to read the Bible today by N.T. Wright.  You were a lifelong learner and therefore disciple of Jesus. As we remember your life today, we find you persistently looking towards Jesus. The Light of the world illumined your life. The Spirit of Jesus empowered you.  The Creator God gave you creativity and wisdom that impacted each of us here today and many more……

Conclusion: Living & Dying Well In Christ
Like Mary who grieved and wailed in lament as she watched her beloved Son Jesus die on the Roman cross, we grieve that you suffered in your last days and hours in your mortal body.  But even in your suffering, you pointed us towards Jesus. Your last breaths took all of you. Yet as Amy testified to me, you were filled with gentleness and kindness until your last breath in this mortal body.  We are grateful for your courageous life and your courageous death in Christ. In your living and your dying, you imitated the humility and passion of Christ. You ran the race of faith with wisdom and courage.
And as I imagine what Gerry might want me to say to everyone gathered here today, I am drawn to the words of Paul in Philippians chapter 3 verse 17: “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”
And, later in verse 20 Paul reminds the Church, “But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends.”
May God, the One who Gerry adored through her words and actions, the One raised Jesus from death to new life, meet us in our lament and grief today and give us new life.  May God strengthen our faith and help us trust that in all God, all things are possible - even resurrection: new bodies, new heavens and a new earth. May God empower us today to turn towards the One who guided Gerry’s life, Jesus the Messiah, and find fullness of life, as Gerry did.  Amen.