Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Installing an Indoor Doorbell

Sometimes we justify a really rude outburst by saying we simply couldn't help it, that the other person pushed our anger button one too many times and is therefore responsible for the blowup. But have we ever noticed how quickly we can change our whole attitude and tone of voice by something as simple as the doorbell ringing?

Like you’re in the middle of a heated argument, giving your spouse or your child a rude, insensitive piece of your mind, and then that simple “ding-dong” sound changes everything. 

This leads me to a brilliant idea I have for a simple home improvement, an indoor button for your doorbell. At any point during any angry, hurtful tirade, anyone involved could reach for the button, signaling a time for both parties to get themselves together, stop attacking each other, cool off, and just speak calmly and politely about how to solve the problem. Which is what you should have done in the first place.

So the next time you find yourself saying something like, “I just can’t help myself--he or she just makes me lose my temper, raise my voice, say all kinds of things I regret later,” remember the power of the doorbell. You can change your tune, modify your tone of voice, and get immediate control of your anger, if you really want to.

Just reach for that simple indoor button, and wait for your good “company’s coming” tone of voice to come back.

Now you’re really talking.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Why I See Moss-Covered Paths, Not Gold-Paved Streets, In Our Future

Is this really the picture John's vision in the Revelation is meant to convey?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth... God saw all that he had made and it was very good." Genesis 1

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth... One of the angels... said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb... And he showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God." Revelation 21

Ask most Christians what they see as their eternal home, and they'll describe something like a gigantic, illuminated city of gold and precious stones, and with twelve gates of pearl.

But what if this lavish description of a new 'Jerusalem' was really meant to be understood as a brilliant metaphor for God's people? In other words, as a word picture of a radiant and many-splendored Bride, rather than as a palatial mansion of many rooms in which God's people spend all eternity?

And what if God's intention is to have that vast 'city' of billions of redeemed people--people who reflect God's light, image and likeness--to inhabit the very earth and under the very heavens God originally created for them--but one that is thoroughly 'new', i.e., purged of all traces of contamination and pollution?

Meanwhile, we are being purified as living building stones, a people who are built together into a radiant and welcoming "city on a hill", a living temple for God to live in. This everlasting 'people city' has protective 'walls,' but 'gates' that are forever open, welcoming people in from all directions.

Note that there is no reference anywhere in the Revelation 21 text to this city being a "heaven" to which we will transported to forever escape planet earth. Rather, the city is specifically identified as "the Bride, the Lamb's wife," the saints who have been in God's dressing room getting ready for their forever wedding. This radiant bride is then specifically described as "coming down out of heaven" to a God-renewed earth.

When we distance ourselves from connection with the amazing earth God created, pronounced "very good", and mandated us to care for, we develop an indifferent attitude about its future. After all, we are about to evacuate it, and God is about to discard it, right?

Wrong. God is all about redeeming and restoring all creation, certainly this pearl of a planet. And if we don't care for the earth we have, are we really good candidates for a new one?

Before you write me off as a heretic, take time to read the following passages with its many metaphors for the church, then tell me what you think:

“You (plural) are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:14

You are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church.” Matthew 16: 18

Come to him, the Living Stone… like living stones, you are being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices that are well pleasing to God.” I Peter 2:4-5

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones … their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.” I Corinthians 3:11-13

“We are a colony of heaven on earth (citizens of heaven) who cling to our life-giver, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our humble bodies and transfigure us into the identical likeness of his glorified body!” Philippians 3:20-21

"...You have come to Mount Zion, city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to myriads of angels in joyful assembly, to the congregation (church) of the firstborn, enrolled in heaven.” Hebrews 12:22-23

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, from God, prepared like a bride dressed up for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne, and this is what it said: ‘Look! God has come to dwell with humans! God will dwell with them, and they will be God's people, and God himself will be with them and will be their God.” Revelation 21:1-3

Come with me,’ he said, ‘and I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb.’ Then he took me in the spirit up a great high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God; it is radiant, like the radiance of a rare and precious jewel, like a jasper stone, crystal-clear. It has a great high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names inscribed on the gates, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. There are three gates coming in from the east, three gates from the north, three gates from the south and three gates from the west. And the wall of the city has twelve foundation-stones, and on them are written the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the lamb.” Revelation 21:9-14

The foundations of the city wall are decorated with every kind of precious stone: the first foundation is jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates are twelve pearls, with each gate consisting of a single pearl. The street of the city is pure gold, clear as glass. I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God the Almighty is its temple, together with the lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the lamb.” Revelation 21:19-23

Monday, May 20, 2019

Most People In Local Jails Are Awaiting Trial

From the Prison Policy Initiative, March 19, 2019

It should be noted that the First Step prison reform legislation passed by Congress only applies to Federal prisons. Meanwhile, our local jail population increased by 10% last year, with corresponding increases in taxpayer costs, in spite of our crime rate remaining low. So let's hope Virginia and other states and localities will follow (and surpass) the bipartisan reforms in the First Step Act as signed by the president. It's a good start!

Here's the link to the article containing this graph

Sunday, May 19, 2019

How The 21st Century May Become Our Last

Our planet as we know it is in peril
"The time has come for judging the dead,
    and for rewarding your servants the               prophets
and your people who revere your name,
    both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the           earth.”

                           -Revelation 11:18 NIV

Warnings about the end of the world have always been a sober part of the Biblical message. At some point our Creator's patience will end and judgment will begin. The earth will be purged of violence and evil and an era of a new heaven (atmosphere) and a new earth ushered in.

Meanwhile, we are hearing all kinds of apocalyptic predictions from secular scholars that echo similar kinds of end time disasters. Here are some of them, each resulting from humanity's addiction to comfort, convenience and excessive consumption:

1. Human activity in the past several decades years alone has accelerated a warming trend on planet earth to an extreme danger point. What had been predicted fifty years ago as the our going through a cooling cycle has instead turned into a warming one. This is contributing to alarming sea level rise, devastating droughts, massive fires, more frequent and more violent storms, and the eventual thawing of Siberian and other Arctic and Antarctic land masses, which in turn will result in the release even more carbon that has been safely stored in a frozen state for millennia.

2. Our clearing of millions of acres of rain forests vital to the health of the planet--all due to our insistence on ever more overconsumption (especially of meat products)--is ongoing and is actually increasing, adding to the danger of ecological disaster.

3. Corporate farming involving large scale poultry, beef and hog production has resulted in the need for using ever more powerful antibiotics to prevent animal diseases--and which enter our food supply. This, along with our over use of antibiotics for our human infections, means there is a greater and greater likelihood of nature creating antibiotic-resistant diseases that could cause a plague of death exceeding that of any in human history.

4. The threat of nuclear war remains an ever present danger. The supply of atomic weapons stockpiled by Russia and the U.S. alone is capable of destroying all life on earth multiple times, and the danger of such a disaster is heightened by our addiction to the kinds of war-making that could all too easily escalate into an all out nuclear holocaust. 

5. Safe and sufficient supplies of water to meet the needs of rapidly growing populations are sure to become a serious problem, especially as drought conditions worsen in more places around the world.

6. Our rivers and oceans are becoming polluted with megatons of plastic and other waste that threaten marine life and the priceless coral reefs that help sustain it. The South China Sea, for example, which provides ten percent of the world's seafood, is near to becoming depleted, with all nations in that area competing to get their share of the fish that remain.

7. We are in ever increasing danger of cyberattacks which could cripple our nation's power supply and its means of production, transportation and communication, and destroy our economy as we know it.

All of this sounds extremely pessimistic, I know, as was the prediction of the prophet Jonah that all of Nineveh would be destroyed, then the home of the world's greatest super power, Assyria. But according to the Biblical account, the city was spared when everyone from the king on down repented of their "evil ways and their violence."  (Jonah 3:6-10)

That, I believe, is our only hope.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

What Do We Have To Hide?

We should all welcome transparency and truthfulness.
Numerous public officials these days are refusing to turn over subpoenaed documents, emails, tax returns and the like.

Human nature being what it is, I understand the reluctance to disclose things folks might find unflattering or embarrassing. But if we have done nothing blameworthy, why not welcome scrutiny, and let the facts speak in our defense?

Meanwhile, it's easy to point fingers at our current president for withholding his tax returns, and to assume it's because a) they may reveal that he's not been as successful a businessman as he has claimed, b) that he has evaded taxes by questionable means, or c) that he has given precious little to charitable causes. We don't really know, but what does he and other public officials have to hide?

And before we make such judgments, let's first be transparent about our own stewardship. As caretakers and managers of what we acknowledge to be entirely God's, are we willing to share our own tax returns and financial dealings with others in our congregations to whom we are accountable? We should be.

If so, might many of us be found guilty of embezzling the wealth with which God has entrusted us, or of being embarrassingly stingy with how we share with the millions of God's children who are homeless and starving?

Truly, what do we have to hide?

"Nothing is secret but what will be known. Anything that is hidden will be brought into the light." (Luke 8:17 NLV)

City Council Supports Abolishing Jail Keep Fee

It's up to the sheriff to stop charging a fee that adversely
affects inmate families.
In a major development for us locals, the Harrisonburg City Council last night took the following action as a part of its resolution on criminal justice:


1. Reiterates its request that the Rockingham County Sheriff examine the possibility of eliminating the $1-day jail fee at the Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail. (this part was reworded slightly by the Council)

2. Recommends that the leadership at the Middle River Regional Jail and Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail consider ways to address the disproportionate cost to women relocated to the Middle River Regional Jail during renovations at the Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail; and

3. Directs the City Manager to continue working with the Rockingham County Administrator to develop implementation strategies in support of this, including identifying funding sources to support these efforts such as potential inclusion of items in the 2019-2020 budget.

Here's a link to the full text of the resolution as presented:

Sunday, May 12, 2019

In Praise of Mothers

This is one of the few photos I have of my sweet mom,
 Mary (Nisly) Yoder 1904-1971
This is the message I gave at today's service at Strite Hall at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community:

On this Mother's Day I'm reflecting on some of the ways mothers, and the loss of mothers, affect us, and how they have impacted my own family of origin. I'm sure many of you would have similar loss and blessing stories of your own.

My mother was born in rural Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1904, the ninth child of devoted Christian parents Eli and Fannie (Troyer) Nisly. Her father, my grandfather Eli Nisly, was a beloved bishop of their church. Her mother Fannie had lost her mother at a very young age, and as a 19 year old moved to Kansas to help with housekeeping for her future husband Eli's father Abraham and children, whose wife, my grandfather Eli's mother, had died young. So this is how these two motherless young people met and eventually married and had 13 children of their own.

My parents married when mom was 21 and my dad 20. After working on my grandfather's Dan Yoder's farm near Thomas, Oklahoma, they travelled some 200 miles by team and wagon from Oklahoma to Kansas in the middle of winter, where they started their family.

My mom, Mary, who was taken from us at the age of 67. With only a sixth grade education, she always loved life, loved learning, and encouraged us to do our best at school. And in the spirit of Proverbs 31, she, with her family's help, put out two gardens every year, canned and froze tons of food for her family, raised canaries to sell, grew lots of flowers, constantly entertained guests from the church and visitors from out of town, and took care of numerous foster children who were motherless, besides raising her own family of 8 children. My parents then adopted my next younger sister, number 9, who came to our home at four weeks as their first foster child, Mary Beth, who had had only a grandmother looking after her, and who was essentially motherless when she came to us.

In spite of the fact that we were quite poor, my mom always found enough to share with others, and was willing to take time to help mother and care for others in our congregation and community when there was a special need, an illness, or a new baby in the family. For ten years, in her later life, she learned to use a typewriter and was the children's editor for the English section of the Herald der Wahrhieit, where she was known as Aunt Mary to young readers of subscribing families.

In spite of all of the stresses in her life, I don't remember mom ever raising her voice in anger, or slapping or spanking us in anger, even though I know we seriously tried her patience time and time again. I attribute all that to her good upbringing and to her faith, though she wasn't one to do a lot of talking about her relationship with God. And while I know she knelt by her bed to pray every day, I never heard her pray out loud. That was Dad's role, who gathered the family together to read the Bible and kneel with us to pray every morning before going out to do the day's work on the farm or before our going to school.

Then 52 years ago this spring, my mom was diagnosed with bone cancer and died in December of '71 at 67 years of age. I was 32, and our whole family experienced this as a terrible shock. Especially my father, Ben, who felt lost without her, and who not long after her death, married one of my mom's sisters who had become a widow.

My dad had lost his own mother when he was only three, and she was the third of his grieving father Dan's wives to pass away. The third. The first, Lucy Lehman, died of measles when she was only 23, leaving Dan with two young children, and then their youngest, Mary died on the day of Lucy's funeral, also of measles. Dan's second wife Rebecca died of tuberculosis at 29, leaving five more motherless children, and the youngest of these then also died of tuberculosis within six month's of Rebecca's passing. Then my grandmother, Elizabeth, Dan's third wife, died at age 35 in giving birth to a stillborn child. leaving my father and an older sister and brother and all their half siblings motherless. He told me once he often cried himself to sleep, wishing he had a mother in his life to comfort and care for him, rather than just a grieving father he called “a man of  sorrows.”

And then my grandfather Dan Yoder, eight years after my grandmother Elizabeth’s death, married a younger widowed mother of six children and seven motherless stepchildren, some of the older of whom had already married and left home. So my father grew up in a highly stressed and grieving blended family that never blended well, his father Dan and the new mother Miriam Mullet representing two very different family cultures, the Yoder side being super strict and somber, and the Mullet side being more spontaneous and fun loving.

Looking back I see my family of origin being strongly affected by the premature loss of mothers, my grandfather Eli's, my grandmother Fannie, father Ben's and his siblings' and half siblings' mothers, my younger adopted sister, and then we lost our own mother, at a somewhat later age, 67. It helps me understand an underlying theme of sadness and the need for approval and love and blessing we experience a lot of. Every marriage, someone has said, is in part an attempt to heal childhood wounds. As men, we fall in love with a beloved other we see as the consummate nurturer, someone who will care for us and stand by us and meet our deepest needs for love and care and belonging, as well as to provide that for our children. I know that, subconsciously or otherwise, affected my choice of the warm, deeply caring and nurturing wife and mother of our children, Alma Jean. She’s been a tremendous blessing!

God designed all of us in the human family to be dependent on mothers and mother figures not only to love and nurture us when we’re young, and to help us throughout life become better able to pass on love to others. 

One of my older sisters, Fannie Mae, named after our mother's mother, never married but became an RN and served as a midwife who delivered over 200 babies in a clinic in Belize and then in Paraguay, and later adopted an autistic and abandoned child that a Paraguayan orphanage begged her to find a home for in the states, and my sister ended up becoming her loving  single mother to Nina, needy and motherless. She is one of my heroes as a mom and a professional nurse, who now at 87, is a resident at Blue Ridge Christian Homes near Raphine.

And now she is being cared for by some of the most selfless, motherly nurses and nursing assistants you could find anywhere. All of us are blessed to have selfless people like that in our lives, who share the mothering qualities of our Abba, our loving parent God, with a big lap and a warm embrace.

I don't find it surprising that at FLRC, where I work half time, we have more people who call in wanting a female counselor than males. That's partly because we have more women clients than men, but I suspect there's also a sense that women are more nurturing in ways all of us, young and old, need and long for.

I'm teaching a parenting class of seven young women right now who are a part of a court ordered Day Reporting program. Five are mothers, with from one to five young children each, one is expecting any day, and another hopes to become a mother as soon as her current boy friend proves to be a stable part of her life. I'm moved by their stories, many have experienced little in the way of good mothering or stable parenting in their own lives, most are from broken homes, and all are a part of broken homes themselves, some were raised by grandparents, some grew up in and out of foster homes and juvenile detention facilities. All are trying to get custody of their own children and to establish a better home for them than they experienced themselves.

And I think, what a challenge. In the first session, we listed some of the good qualities they wanted their children to graduate from their homes with, wonderful qualities like kindness, respect, caring, honesty, creativity, empathy, confidence, hard work, etc.  And of course, they all realized that the best way to instill these values is not by trying to beat them into their children, or to lecture into them, but by consistently demonstrating those qualities in the context of loving relationships with their children as their mother. 

I’m more than glad to volunteer time for opportunities like that to pass on some of the good influences I've been blessed with in my life, through my mother as well as my dad, and other good mother and father figures in my life, and in the caring congregation I grew up in.

No wonder the writer of Proverbs calls people like that priceless, worth far more than rubies or diamonds.

May all of their children, all of us, rise up and call them blessed.

Friday, May 10, 2019

City Council Considers This Resolution Tuesday, May 14, 7 p.m. at City Hall

Attendance Tuesday by concerned citizens can help make the following motion a reality.


WHEREAS, The City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County participate in a shared and integrated criminal justice system, and the criminal justice system is comprised of independently elected and appointed local officials, such as the Sheriff and Commonwealth Attorney, who act with a high degree of autonomy and authority given by law and are accountable to voters and no other elected officials, and Judges appointed by the Virginia General Assembly; and

WHEREAS, both jurisdictions share in facilities and technology cost to support the criminal justice system. As a result, the system typically accounts for a substantial portion of the annual budget of both the City and County; and

WHEREAS, administering an effective criminal justice system is a fiscal and social responsibility that is rooted in the ability to obtain, analyze, and meaningful present data that describe how the criminal justice system operates. System level data are critical to identifying problems and making informed decisions.

WHEREAS, through professional data analysis, our community can make better-informed decisions that would potentially reduce the incarceration rates, reduce incarceration costs, and reduce recidivism while increasing public safety and health.


1. Recommends the Rockingham County Sheriff examine the possibility of eliminating the $1-day jail fee at the Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail by exploring options adopted by neighboring jurisdictions,

2. Recommends that the leadership at the Middle River Regional Jail and Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail consider ways to address the disproportionate cost to women relocated to the Middle River Regional Jail during renovations at the Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail; and

3. Directs the City Manager to continue working with the Rockingham County Administrator to develop implementation strategies in support of this, including identifying funding sources to support these efforts such as potential inclusion of items in the 2019-2020 budget.

The public is always welcome to attend sessions and to contact members of the Council:

Mayor Deanna Reed
Vice-Mayor Richard Baugh

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Before We Expand The Middle River Jail

Our local jail numbers are growing by 10% this year, so
we're sending ever more inmates (all of our women) to
MRRJ, where their daily keep fee goes from $1 to $3.
The following appeared as an Open Forum in today's Daily News-Record:

According to a front page article in the March 26, 2019 DNR, the Middle River Regional Jail (MRRJ) Authority has already budgeted money for a Community Based Corrections Plan, a needs assessment study required by the Commonwealth in order to apply for a 25% state grant for expanding the facility if deemed necessary. According to the DNR, this alone would cost more than $57,000, in addition to a facility planning study for an additional $84,000. Engineering services by the Timmons Group would cost yet another $12,000. 

For a bit of history, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County joined the Middle River Regional Jail Authority in July, 2015, in response to overcrowding at our local jail. The $21.5 million, 10-year deal provided our community with access to 250 MRRJ beds. Up to that time, our locality was spending $1.2 million a year renting around 100 beds at Middle River as a temporary solution. Meanwhile, in spite of our crime rates remaining comparatively low, we keep adding some 10% more inmates annually to these numbers, resulting in still more crowding.

But before we invest in ever more costly jails we should consider the recent experience of the Riverside Regional Jail in Prince George County. Similar to MRRJ, it serves four nearby counties and three adjacent cities. According to a March 5, 2019 piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Riverside is facing a $2.4 million budget operating deficit in the coming fiscal year due to a shortage of inmates.

Why? A major reason is that the Chesterfield County Jail, with around 300 beds of its own, and which has supplied nearly half of RRJ’s inmates, has seen their jail numbers drop by some 34%, resulting in that County’s share of RRJ’s income decreasing from $11.9 million in the current fiscal year to a projected $8.4 million in 2020.

According to the Richmond Times piece, “Chesterfield's sheriff, Karl Leonard, attributed the county's drop in part to rehabilitation programs his department has created for offenders with substance abuse problems and more inmates being diverted by county judges into diversion programs rather than sending them to jail.”

The highly successful Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP) promoted by Sheriff Leonard in his Chesterfield County Jail was designed by the McShin Foundation and has recently been adopted by the Rappahannock/Shenandoah/Warren Regional Jail in Front Royal as well.

John Shinholser, former Board Chair of Rubicon, Inc., Virginia's most comprehensive substance abuse treatment facility, and who with Carol McDaid heads the McShin Foundation, will present a report on the HARP program at the next meeting of our local Community Criminal Justice Board at 4 pm. June 3 on the lower floor of Harrisonburg City Hall. For those interested, the meeting is open to the public.

Reasons for increases in our incarceration numbers are varied and complex, and answers are not easy to come by, but before we invest in ever more steel and concrete cages to house non-violent offenders we need to study every effective alternative possible.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Cleaning Up The After A Deadly Holocaust

This photo by The Guardian shows one of the many
signs warning of danger of contamination.
According to a recent news item in The Week, the U.S. is in the middle of a $183 million cleanup operation at Vietnam's Bien Hoa Airport, a site from which more than 11 million gallons of the defoliant Agent Orange was sprayed over large areas of jungle to deprive Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces of tree cover from 1962 to 1971.

Forty years later, Vietnamese men, women and children are still suffering all kinds of adverse health effects ranging from high incidences of cancer to a multitude of mental and physical disabilities in children that persist through life. A total of several million people are reported to have been affected, "including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects such as missing limbs, spinal bifida and hydrocephaly."

I so wish my fellow pro-lifers would join me in thoroughly denouncing this and other ravages of modern warfare, and not focus only on the violence of abortion. Besides the use of this kind of deadly defoliant, the U.S. used more firepower in Laos alone than it had used in all of Europe in all of World War II, to say nothing of the megatons of bombs dropped on the rest of Southeast Asia during the U.S. invasion.

All of these forms of holocaust most certainly resulted in the deaths of thousands of unborn babies as well as countless other innocent non-combatants.

May God have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Revealing Excerpt Of Mueller Letter To Barr 3/27/19

Robert Mueller
As something of  a news junkie, I was intrigued by the letter we've just learned that Robert Mueller, Special Counsel to the Department of Justice, had written to Attorney General William Barr after Barr published his first summary of the Counsel's report. The letter was Mueller's attempt to correct what he feared would be a faulty impression of what his full report actually revealed, prior to the public having access to Barr's (redacted) full version of it. Meanwhile, we were't informed that Mueller had already prepared his own brief summary, which Barr never published, but rather gave the public his own version of a summary.

You can access Mueller's entire March 29, 2019 letter here, but the following is an excerpt: