Tuesday, July 30, 2019

"Small Change For A Big Change!" Campaign

The 2020 Vision Fund Drive to raise $220,000 by the end of next year is the brainchild of the Gemeinschaft Fundraising Committee of which I am a part. Gemeinschaft Home offers a 90-day transitional program for over 40 men at a time who are reentering society after years of incarceration. 

At Gemeinschaft (pronounced Ga-mine-shoft, a German word meaning "community") they receive group support, find jobs and learn how to build a foundation for a new start. 

Here are some of the things the $220,000 will make possible, with your help:

Thanks to several generous donors, we have already raised $15,000 toward this first part of our goal. 

Our second goal will help us better meet the need of individuals with mental health, addiction and relationship challenges that may interfere with their successful reentry:

Getting a women's program established has long been a dream of Gemeinschaft Home, which has applied for a substantial grant to help make this possible. 

We're already getting gifts to help match the hoped for grant start-up money needed:

With the generous help of the Merck Foundation and scores of donors from our community, Gemeinschaft recently installed solar panels that will supply the majority of its power needs. Replacing our aging and inefficient HVAC units will help us become ever more energy efficient:

Our last project for the 2020 Vision Campaign is one that may seem less urgent to some, but it's one of the long held dreams we would like to see come to pass (perhaps as a memorial tribute to someone's loved one?):

In the 2019 Phase One of our 2020 Vision Campaign, we are making a special appeal to new donors, hence the slogan "Small Change for a Big Change." Here we are inviting individuals to make generous one-time contributions to the program or, better yet, become sustaining members by contributing $10, $20 or $30 a month for ongoing support of Gemeinschaft's vital work (with the understanding that this level of giving can be changed or discontinued at any time). 

Phase Two of the Campaign, from January 1 to December 31, 2020, will focus on soliciting more of the larger donor contributions needed to reach the $220,000 goal and make the above projects possible. Stay tuned!

As a long-time member of the Gemeinschaft Home Board, I will feel so blessed to have your help in making a big difference in the lives of people who need and deserve a second chance. 

Here's the link you need to become a supporting member of the Gemeinschaft family: 

God will bless you, and our residents will thank you, for your support. 

And here are other ways to get on board:

Friday, July 26, 2019

Some Things I've Learned From Major Surgery

In God's economy, no experience has
to go to waste.
1. You can never take your life or health for granted. I was assured that the survival rate for heart bypass patients was near 99%, yet I'll never forget the relief I experienced when I first became awake after five hours of anesthesia. It felt like I was coming out of a dimly-lit tunnel into the dawn of a new day. "We're going to take out your breathing tube," I was told, "and you'll be breathing on your own." After a labored breath or two, I realized I was going to be OK, an unforgettable moment.

2. Having strong family support is priceless. Alma Jean, my most faithful supporter, and I were blessed to have our daughter and our oldest son accompany us to the University of Virginia Medical Center early on the morning of July 5. To actually have them be able to stay with me (either in my room or at the nearby guest house) for the first several days of my stay was a blessing beyond belief.

3. And how I thank God for the countless friends, neighbors and members of our church family who have showered us with prayers, cards, visits, food and other favors too numerous to count. It was like having an assembly of angels responding to our every need.

4. Health care professionals are worth their weight in gold. Before, during and after my hospital stay, scores of doctors, nurses, med techs, lab techs, x-ray techs and other care providers each did their best to help me get through the process of healing in the most expeditious way possible.

5. Above all, I gained a new appreciation of a loving God and Great Physician who designed the human body in such an amazing way, then gifted myriads of people who have helped perfect the current state of medical treatment to help us when it is injured or fails. Yet even the most well trained humans can only help create the best possible circumstances in which healing can occur, not actually accomplish the healing itself. For example, suturing vein to vein and artery to artery in the almost microscopic way needed for a bypass makes this healing possible, but the capacity for healing itself is miraculously built into our very being.

6. Healing takes time and patience, You can expect some really encouraging progress followed by days and nights that seem endless and with fewer signs of healing. "Tribulation produces patience,"we're told in a familiar scripture text, a good thing for all of us.

7. The healing of mind and body go hand in hand. I expected to catch up on a lot of reading in my recovery, but for the first couple of weeks I found that my mind was unlike its usually motivated self, and that my brain, like my newly repaired heart, also needed some recovery time.

8. The world can get along quite well without my having to be in constant control of the kind of  scheduled life I've become used to.

9. Just as there are an amazing number of ways of helping people experience wellness and healing, I'm newly aware of just as many unbelievable ways in which people bent on evil are capable of creating destruction, suffering and misery on vulnerable, pain-prone human beings.

10. In summary, I've gained bucketsful of gratitude to God for all my blessings, and want to use every opportunity possible to preserve life and to promote healing wherever I can.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Stains Of Blame and Blood On Millions Of Hands

There were 51,000 casualties inflicted at Gettysburg alone.
"Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other."
- from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, 3/4/65

During my recovery from surgery I’ve been reading more about the Civil War, including a fascinating book, "A Pictorial History Of The Civil War Years" by Paul M. Angle. 

Page after illustrated page describes suffering of unbelievable proportions. Men on both sides faced not only blistering cannon and rifle fire, but had to deal with grueling marches and encampments in all kinds of weather extremes, had to often subsist on maggot-infested and inferior rations, and were ravaged by typhoid fever, pneumonia and other illnesses that mercilessly took the lives of more men than did combat itself. And without benefit of anesthesia or even minimal sterilization against infection, many of the injured had their mangled limbs sawed off under gruesome conditions worse than death itself.

Throughout I again found myself in disbelief at the thought of whole nations, churches and communities on both sides continuing to justify and even glorify war as noble and honorable thing, rather than naming it the savage, barbaric and insane butchery it truly is. 

How can we continue to honor presidents, generals, politicians and religious leaders who defend and perpetuate this evil, even if waged against tyranny, slavery and whatever other forms of oppression?

As long as there is life, as long as there are decent people on earth and a God in heaven, such evils can be resisted and will eventually be overcome, but when we extinguish life itself, as we do in the killing fields and saturation bombings of ever more horrific forms of war, there can be little hope for a better world.

The silence of professed followers of Jesus around the world has been deafening. Beyond that, without the endorsement and support of religious leaders as well as followers of all faiths, war would be impossible. This is what should bother us most.

During the Civil War, only a handful of believers, mostly Quakers, Brethren and Mennonites, spoke out against this carnage and insanity.

Among them was Elder John Kline of nearby Broadway, a Brethren (Dunkard) minister who made repeated appeals to then Governor John Letcher and Congressman John T. Harris based on the conviction expressed in his diary as follows:

Succession means war; and war means tears and ashes and blood. It means bonds and imprisonments, and perhaps even the death to many in our Brotherhood, who, I have the confidence to believe, will die, rather than disobey God by taking up arms.

Peter Hartman, a first hand witness to the conflict as a Mennonite lad on a farm just over the the hill from what is now EMU, repeatedly shared his views about the folly and futility of war throughout his life.

In his “Reminiscences of the Civil War,” he writes:

In June of the same year (1863) General Fremont came here with 45,000 men. About twelve of the men came and went into our smokehouse. Each one hung a piece of bacon on his bayonet and marched across our meadow. I never saw a more jubilant group of fellows than they were. A good many came to our house. They were in high spirits. “We’ve got Jackson now. We have him in the jug and  all we have to do is put the stopper in.” They had a battle just above Harrisonburg on Saturday night. It was in the evening at sundown. I saw the northern army traveling up over the hill, it was not long until ‘pop, pop, pop,’ and they kept this up for about a half hour. I could hear the bullets whistle right by our place. I could hear the wounded men scream. I heard cannon roar on the side toward Harrisonburg...  On Sunday morning some of the Northern men came to our home for something to eat. They said, “We killed Colonel [Turner] Ashby last night.”

Until God removes the last vestige of pleasure, satisfaction or approval at having an ‘enemy’ such as Turner Ashby fatally shot through the heart, I wonder if we can ever claim to be fully Christian.

Here's a link to an earlier piece, Saying No To War:

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Murder They Wrote: How Good Conversations On Abortion Became Seriously Derailed

Amazing how life is fashioned
even in the first trimester.
I well remember a time when you could still have civil debates among people of faith over the issue of abortion. I believe this was partly because most people recognized a lack of consensus in both the scientific and the religious community over complex questions concerning the beginning of human life and human personhood. 

Then almost overnight, largely through concerted efforts by elements of the political right, the issue became framed in a way that brought about a sharp and seemingly unreconcilable divide. On one side were those who still felt the science was unclear and that theologians still had work to do in determining beginning of life questions. On the other side were those who insisted that any termination of any pregnancy at any stage was equal to cold blooded murder.

Yes, murder. Once that word became associated with even the use of an IUD as a means of birth control, or the use of a morning after pill in the case of rape or incest, for many the debate was over. Case closed. Either you were for preserving all life from the moment of conception or you become an accomplice to killing babies.

For some background, there was a time when there was an earnest debate by theologians over how soon after conception “ensoulment” happened. Many believed it was somewhere after day 40 but there was no definitive word concerning an exact time. The Catholic Church, however, believed in erring on the conservative side in case that date were actually earlier rather than later. For theologians the question was important, among other reasons, for determining when and whether a prenatal human life was under the condemnation of original sin and required baptism in order to enter heaven.

Meanwhile, most Jewish and some Protestant communities saw human life, while physically beginning at conception, as not being fully ‘ensouled’ until birth. Religious scholars often focused on the Creation account in Genesis, in which the Spirit/Wind/Breath of God hovered over the cosmos, impregnating it with life. Then in the special moment of human creation, God carefully fashioned adamah (dust) into God’s own image, then breathed into it the breath of divine life, at which point the human being became a living soul, or person, and was given the name Adam. He, together with his wife Eve, was to be steward and caretaker of God’s beautiful and newly created heavens and newly inhabitable earth.

Based on this kind of understanding of humanity as being first beautifully formed from clay then wonderfully endowed with the divine breath of life, most human societies, communities and faiths have made some distinctions between the existence of a human body and the God-breathed life of the human soul, or person, each a mystery and a priceless gift from God. Questions have always remained about how or when human personhood begins or is defined, and people of faith have not always agreed on when a humanly conceived life became an eternally living soul.

In other words, for millennia there was the recognition that neither religion or science had yet arrived at a definitive answer, and that to insist on there being a simple one was to risk being mistaken. Nevertheless, the following distinctions continued to be made at a practical level, such as:

1. Almost universally, the naming, dedicating, blessing, christening and in some traditions, baptizing or circumcising of infants has been only after an actual birth has taken place. A name might be chosen before birth, but not officially bestowed until afterward. As a rare exception, some Catholic priests centuries ago used a syringe to baptize/christen a baby prenatally just to make sure they could be deemed ready for heaven, according to this source: <>

2. Faith communities have seldom held memorial or burial services in cases of a natural abortion (miscarriage) of an embryo or fetus, nor published obituaries with date of conception, date of miscarriage, etc. Not that there hasn’t been the recognition of a need to grieve the loss of the unfulfilled dream of a life that never came to fruition, but no grave markers have generally been erected to permanently memorialize prenatal life.

3. In terms of census taking, no community, family or nation I know of has ever counted a woman pregnant with a baby as more than one person. Only after she is delivered is the resulting birth added to the census and counted as a citizen.

I raise all of these points simply to acknowledge the obvious complexity associated with this issue. And to humbly ask whether we would be better off sometimes stepping out of our dogmatic boxes and simply agreeing that neither science nor religion have yet come up an absolutely definitive answer as to when a human life in formation becomes a human person. 

Meanwhile, I choose to side with those who seek to preserve all forms of human life at all stages (remember that first amazing sonogram of a future child or grandchild?), but I will also side with, and show empathy and support for, those who face gut wrenching beginning of life as well as end of life decisions for which I for one still have no easy answers.

Likewise, I will renew my efforts at having men take full responsibility for the pregnancies they cause, and will do all I possibly can to relieve the suffering of innocent men, women and children (including unborn ones) who are facing unbelievable hardships in the face of famine, war and other forms of violence and destruction.

May God have mercy on us all.

Here's a link to a conversation with my friend Dr. Roman Miller in which he offers some very helpful perspectives: 

And here's a link to information on emerging Mennonite and other evangelical perspectives:

Thursday, July 11, 2019

A Reason For The Rising Cost Of Health Care

You can now partly blame me for U.S. healthcare costs going
through the roof.
In spite of my trying to live a reasonably healthy life, I could have most certainly done better with my diet and other health habits, and thus may have avoided some of the expensive heart problems with which I was recently diagnosed and treated.

In my latest healthcare scare, everything came up suddenly and without warning less than six weeks ago when I first noted some uncharacteristic shortness of breath on my daily walks. Ever since I've been subjected to ongoing pre-op tests and treatments at our local hospital, followed by a day of prep and an intensive four-day stay at the University of Virginian Medical Center. I still haven't the faintest idea what the total sticker price for my bypass surgery and associated health services might be, and maybe I'll never know.

Hospitals, health facilities, and medical centers are somewhat like around-the-clock assembly lines, where specialists efficiently provide 24/7 billable services, all vital and life saving ones, to be sure. I've experienced unbelievable care in the past weeks, including from Dr. Kern, my heart surgeon, and the ten people on his team involved in my 5-hour surgery. Then there was the amazing lineup of separate individuals providing care ranging from daily x-rays, regular blood tests and lab work, keeping track of vital signs every four hours, a nurse to dispense meds three times a day, plus other doctors and  nurse practitioners assessing my daily progress. And not least of all, many wonderful patient care techs to respond to every personal care need.

Now that I'm home, I'm blessed with two full time angels from heaven attending to my every whim, along with an occasional visiting nurse and friends who've brought us enough love (partly spelled f-o-o-d) and other blessings to last us for weeks.

So all I can feel today is gratitude, all going back to that dramatic moment when I was told I had gotten through everything OK and that they were removing my breathing tube and enabling me to begin to do less labored breathing. Strangely, I remember the first day, still under the influence of my anesthesia, as among my best.

At day six, I'm at home and experiencing a boat load of blessings from every side. Thanks be to God, and to all of God's loving people who have been like Jesus to me.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

'In Lieu Of Flowers'--Some Post-Op Preferences

My double bypass surgery is set for the UVA Medical Center July 5.
If you feel someone going through an operation shouldn't express wishes such as the following, just ignore this post. But in case you're interested, here are some of my thoughts:

1. Don't feel obligated to visit me during the 4-6 days I'll likely be at Charlottesville. Both my good wife Alma Jean and our daughter Joanna plan to remain close by around the clock for the early part of my recovery, as will son Brad for the first couple of days (Am I blessed or what?). But after I get home I'm sure I'll be glad for some company! 🙂

2. I love home grown and wild flowers, but rather than ordering something commercial, just make a beautiful little donation in my name to one of the following or to a charity of your choice:

a. Gemeinschaft's 2020 Campaign
b. Refugee relief through the SOS (Sharing Our Surplus) Relief Sale Giving Campaign (or give directly to MCC

3. Cards are welcome, but words of encouragement via email or Facebook messages are OK, and just as valued.

4. Your ongoing thoughts and prayers, and especially the latter, are always appreciated!