Wednesday, October 30, 2019

At My Sister's Memorial Service

While not a biological mother, Fannie Mae was a
terrific mom to her adopted daughter Nina Ruth and
to scores of other babies and children she cared for
(The lighthouse represents some of her art work).
I shared the following heartfelt words at my sister's funeral yesterday:

In the past couple of years Fannie Mae would sometimes lament the fact that she didn’t have family like the rest of us siblings did. Today I would want to say, “Fannie Mae, look around you at all these people. Look at your family, not only the nieces and nephews and cousins but your church and community family of people who love you. 

On Fannie Mae’s behalf, and for all of the Yoder family, I want to express special appreciation for people like Alvin, Barbara Ann, and Sharon Schrock for being the best and most caring neighbors Fannie Mae could have ever had, for the sometimes day and night care they offered her. And for cousin Barbara Hershberger, who was like a sister, taking such an interest in her care and taking her to multiple doctors appointments and the like, way beyond the call of duty.

And what would we have done without Maynard Miller, her power of attorney, who with Shirley spent hours taking care of details about finances and so many other important matters in our absence. And thanks to Betty Hershberger for all the help she gave her with her email problems and for creating this wonderful program for us.

And for niece Mary Lois Schrock and all the other good folks at Blue Ridge Christian Homes for the exceptional care they provided, and for administrator Melvin Bender for helping make her stay there affordable for us and for Pilgrim church, who generously helped fund her stay. All of you and Dr. Marsh, went out of your way to help save her life and give her the best quality of life possible while she was there.

Then there was the compassionate staff at Mountain View Nursing Home, with niece Faith Hochstetler as one of her faithful RN’s, where Fannie Mae also received the best care imaginable during her last weeks here on earth. We’ve been beyond blessed by how everything has worked out and how many angels in disguise God has provided for her care.

And last but not least among these angels in disguise have been all of the good women from the Pilgrim church who often spent nights with her, and who signed up to spend hours of time with her during the day to help feed and care for her. You’ve been such Godsend, and we as a family don’t know what we would have done without you. 

I know I’m still overlooking all kinds of people I should name here. God knows who you are, and you will each receive your reward. 

So, for Fannie Mae and all of us, “Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

One of My Favorite Heroes Just Passed Away

A recent time with my  remaining sisters. Now Fannie Mae
(on the right) is gone.
Today I wrote a draft of an obituary for a greatly admired and loved older sister who died just after 6 this morning after a long illness. 

I arrived at the Mountain View Home not long before the folks from the funeral home came for her body for Tuesday's burial.

Fortunately, I was in time for the Home's traditional "Respect Walk" for a deceased resident. As my sister's blanket-draped body was moved from her room to the hearse outside, some twenty staff members and voluntary service workers, some off duty, lined the hallway in silence and then sang "In the Sweet By and By" in beautiful four-part harmony as they followed my niece, one of the Home's RN's, and I to the vehicle outside.

Needless to say, we were moved to tears.

Here's the obituary copy:
Fannie Mae Yoder, 88, formerly of Staunton, died peacefully at the Mountain View Nursing Home at Aroda, Virginia, on October 26, 2019.

She was born August 15, 1931 in Hutchinson, Kansas, a daughter of the late Ben and Mary Yoder. Together they moved their family from Garnett, Kansas to Stuarts Draft, Virginia in 1946.

In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by siblings, Mary Beth Shifflett and husband Harven of Free Union, Lovina Yoder and husband Ernest of Rustburg, Esther Yoder and husband Robert of Long Island, Lucy Schrock and husband Alvin of Staunton, Eli Yoder and wife Ruth of Floyd who survives.

Survivors include an adopted daughter, Nina Ruth Yoder, a sister, Magdalena Schrock and husband Alvin of Cumberland; brothers, Harvey Yoder and wife Alma Jean of Harrisonburg, and Sanford Yoder and wife Martha of San Carlos, Costa Rica. She also leaves many beloved nieces and nephews.

Fannie Mae spent much time of her adult life in service and mission assignments, not only in the states but in Newfoundland, Belize and Paraguay, where she served as a nurse-midwife and delivered over 200 babies. While in Paraguay, she was instrumental in helping Nina, a special needs child, being brought to the states for care and whom she later adopted as Nina Ruth Yoder.

Fannie Mae received an RN degree from Eastern Mennonite College and Riverside Hospital in 1964. She was employed by Riverside Hospital and Mountain View Nursing Home, where she recently became a resident after having first been in assisted living at Blue Ridge Christian Home in Raphine. She enjoyed music, art, gardening, reading and writing.

She was an active member of Pilgrim Christian Fellowship of Stuarts Draft, where a service will be held in her memory at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, October 29, 2019, led by ministers of the church. Burial will follow at Mt. Zion Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Pilgrim Brotherly Aid Fund, Duane Weaver, Treasurer, 65 Milmont Drive, Stuarts Draft, VA 24477.

Here's a link to some other blogs about her

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

When Prayer Becomes a Martial Art

Prevailing with God is not for the faint of heart. 
We often associate prayer with quiet reflection and being submissive and receptive in God's presence. And there is much to be said for that kind of spiritual practice.

But as some of our lectionary texts from last week suggest, there is also a need for prayer to be about bold persistence and perseverance.

The Genesis 32 story of Jacob's wrestling match with an emissary from God is a case in point. Jacob had been seeking divine blessing all his life, and had earlier engaged in deception to receive that blessing from his dying father.

He was then forced to flee for his life to escape his older brother Esau's wrath, who sought revenge upon realizing that his younger brother had stolen the blessing that was rightfully his. Now decades later, Jacob is about to be reunited with his brother, who is fully armed and able to exact retribution for what happened years before.

Jacob is terrified, and spends the night separated from his family and his flocks, wrestling with his fears and with the possibility of reaping the consequence of the manipulation he had engaged in, yet still wanting whatever of God's blessing he can still manage to gain for himself.

What he gets after an exhausting round of wrestling with a God-sent man is a new name, Israel, "One who prevails with God," replacing the name Jacob, which means "deceiver." Meanwhile, he gives up many of his possessions as a peace offering to his older brother, trading one kind of wealth in hopes of another.

God clearly honors his persistence, and the seriousness with which he seeks God's blessing, this time the right way.

In the Luke 18 lectionary text Jesus tells the story of a widow who persisted in seeking justice from a disinterested judge until he finally gave in rather than having to be bothered by this persistent woman.

This parallels another story in Luke, chapter 11, where a man asks a neighbor to borrow some bread to feed a guest who had arrived unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Again, the person is rewarded for his boldness in asking for much needed help to feed a hungry friend.

A lesson we can draw from these stories is that prayer is to be a bold engagement with God, an intense collaboration in the mission of God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. It is not a spiritual practice for the half-hearted or the passive, but for those willing to combine a persistent faith with passionate action.

"Then the Lord said, 'Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?'”                  - Luke 18:6-8 (NLT)

Monday, October 21, 2019

How Our "Praying For Our Leaders" Falls Short

This text asks us to pray first for all people, then for "all those
in authority," so that humanity everywhere might live in peace.
This text is often cited as a mandate to pray for our country's leaders, and especially for our nation's president.

But the apostle Paul, who was in a Roman prison when he wrote this to a young pastor in a city occupied by Rome, had a much bigger picture in mind. As a Jew, he happened to also be a Roman citizen, but his primary citizenship was in the worldwide Kingdom-of-God-movement, one led by a non-violent Messiah who lived and died for our human neighbors everywhere.

So, far from encouraging prayer for one ruler or one nation alone, Paul was concerned that peace and godliness (God-like behavior) would prevail among people of power and authority around the world. Note the repeated use of the word "all" in this text.

Or, as in the words of Jesus' prayer, "May your (God's) will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

That means everywhere. No exceptions.

Friday, October 18, 2019

DNR Open Forum: A Write-in For Lady Justice?

A statue of Lady Justice towers high above
our local court house.

“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 punish the transgressors and protect the good; to judge rightly between a man and his fellows; todo justice to the widows and orphans and to the poor… to the benefit of the common people.”  
 - Menno Simons

These words from a 16th century reformer are relevant today as we consider how to best use our influence for the common good. Voting as we know it was not an option then, but Simons made numerous appeals to those in positions of power.

Such appeals may have more impact than merely casting a ballot, especially when some of the more important posts in our local fall election—that of the sheriff and the commonwealth’s attorney—are uncontested. This makes me wish that in such cases one could assign a rating expressing one’s degree of approval of a candidate’s performance. 

In the case of Sheriff Hutcheson and Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst, one might choose a positive rating of, say, 85%, given their dedication, integrity and hard work on behalf of our community. 

Under the sheriff’s watch we’ve gained a full time mental health worker and a half time chaplain at the jail, a special pod for people with mental illnesses, and a pilot plan for giving inmates access to electronic tablets to use for educational purposes. On the other hand, I would love to see him do away with the arbitrary keep fee charged to inmate families and to consider offering drug rehab pods as numerous other jails have done.

As a result of Garst’s efforts, we have been blessed with having successful Drug Court and Day Reporting programs as alternatives to incarceration, with having her advocate for more available housing for ex-offenders, and with her speaking in favor of a “greenhouse mentality over a warehouse mentality” when dealing with offenders.

On the other hand, I would love to see her assess the legality of jail keep fees in light of the Virginia Constitution’s separation of powers provision and the U.S. Constitution’s “excessive fines” clause (as in exceeding what a duly authorized court has determined to be an appropriate punishment), as well as advocating for increased support of restorative justice and diversion programs to help reduce rising incarceration numbers. Also to increase the number of non-violent offenders eligible for bail while awaiting trial.

I recently sent some 100 emails to friends and acquaintances asking how (or whether) they plan to cast their ballot in the case of uncontested seats. Some plan to vote for whoever is the candidate, others plan to leave a blank in such cases, others will write in a name or a comment.

Which makes me wish we could simply give an approval rating. 

Meanwhile, with all due respect, I may simply choose Lady Justice, the symbol that towers high above our local court house.

Here's a link to comments I got from my recent informal survey on voting

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Results Of An Informal Survey On How (Or Whether) Some Local Folks Will Vote This Fall

As a matter of conviction I have always avoided partisan politics. I see myself as a worldwide Kingdom-of-God-minded independent, with a duty to appeal for justice everywhere in the spirit of 16th century reformer and spiritual ancestor Menno Simons, who wrote:

“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 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 the benefit of the common people.”

Meanwhile, I’ve struggled with the question of whether to use the pebble’s worth of influence that represents a vote (an option Simons didn't have) in cases where it might help move the needle in a slightly more just-ward direction. 

So recently I sent an email to people on my address list (a random mix of local citizens concerned about criminal justice issues) as follows: 

In light of having two important local seats being uncontested, that of sheriff and the commonwealth’s attorney, what are your plans for November 5? 

___ 1. I choose NOT to vote. Here's why:

___ 2. I choose to cast a vote for each office, even if a race is uncontested (such as for the sheriff and the commonwealth's attorney). Here's why:

___ 3. For uncontested races, I may leave that option blank. Here's why:

___ 4. I will write in a name or comment if I am not in support of a candidate listed, Here's why:

Only one person checked the first option, but the response I got I found very thoughtful and helpful, as follows:

I have not voted in an election since 1988 when I realized that voting for someone who could either send troops into battle to harm or kill another person, or that they could vote to fund such an exercise would be be counter to what I believe. That is true on both the national and state level.

I do not vote for local officials because they are on the ballot with persons who I described above which could cloud my witness as to why I do not vote. So I chose not to vote at all.

Two other reasons I do not vote. First, I have yet to find any candidate worthy of my vote. For example, they are usually either pro death penalty, or pro abortion, which goes against my belief that Christians should have a consistent pro life commitment, womb to tomb. I do not believe Jesus taught us to choose the lessor of two evils. But rather as Christians we are to think on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” Unfortunately politics are not any of these today nor have they been in the past.

Second, and a more recent understanding is that I choose not to get involved with elections because of the divide that it causes  between good people, between friends and family members. We tend to think it is bad now, but it has been that way almost since the beginning of the republic. So I choose to pray for our leaders no matter the party, no matter the office instead of public pronouncements either for or against a candidate.

I also believe that we (Mennonites) have lost some of our witness when we lost the “quiet in the land” preferences of previous generations. Yes we have spoken to governments throughout our existence, but have done so in quiet and respectful ways (I.e. CO status between the wars). In some ways we have become an echo church, one that echoes the culture around us.

Finally, I see voting as different than paying taxes, some of which go for military spending (which is one of the several liberties that the government has as outlined in the constitution, as opposed to the negative liberties outlined). I am  required (coerced) by the government to pay my taxes, but I am not required to vote. So I pay my taxes as I believe the Bible teaches,  but I withhold my vote, because I am not required (coerced) to do so.

One person explicitly supported voting in general, hence chose option #2: I choose to cast a vote for each office, even if a race is uncontested:

I plan to vote. It is a privilege. I feel if you don't vote you have no right to complain.

Several  people checked #3: For uncontested races, I may leave that option blank. Here's why:
  • I will leave the form blank if the candidate is uncontested and I don't think well of him/her holding the office. (Occasionally I've done a write-in as a protest, though.) If the person is uncontested but I more-or-less approve of them, I'll check their name.
  • For uncontested races, I may leave that option blank. If it is a candidate whom I do not support, I haven't perceived that any opportunity to express my preference exists. I have assumed that all I can do is "vote with my feet" by leaving it blank.  Am I missing something?
  • I will leave those blank, or write in Lady Justice!
  • I 'check' #3. I’ve been thinking about what a reasonable person does about the unfortunate divisions in our politics…
  • Our unopposed sheriff is cooperating with federal ICE authorities, but the feds are not following important asylum laws.  This creates fear in our community among many good people and harms community-law enforcement relations.
  • I voted in absentia for the November election... for all the candidates I favored but not for the commonwealth’s attorney, where I left a blank… I substituted another name for the sheriff (to make an ironic joke).
  • I choose option #3 because I don't want to support with a vote a person I do not support for the office.  I very much encourage all people I know to vote.
• I may leave the option blank because I don’t care about the statistics and what’s the point. I will write in a name if it’s an option although… I can’t imagine that would ever make a difference.

The rest of the respondents chose #4: I will write in a name or comment if I am not in support of a candidate listed, Here's why:
  • I will vote for all contested races and some uncontested races. I will not vote for sheriff, however, because of his cooperation with ICE… I'll write someone in.
  • I have felt that some of these current criminal justice officials have not been listening to the compassionate, engaged voices of our local citizens.  It's time to restore offenders to productive, contributing members of our society, not just to soak them in demeaning punishments.
  • Our unopposed commonwealth's attorney needs to divert the many people with non-violent drug charges from jail before they even have a trial instead of denying bail bond.
  • It’s a more specific form of protest vote, one that identifies the kind of person who I think should have run and hold that office.
  • I'll do 4 if I don't approve of an uncontested candidate. But I must admit I often know nothing about candidates for some offices, in which case I usually leave it blank, i.e. leave it to others with more info to make the decision.
  • If the sheriff and commonwealth’s attorney are uncontested, I will write a comment of objection.  Both seem to be guided by a willingness (if not a desire) to punish rather than to restore and to cooperate with federal agencies that hurt the most vulnerable people in society and all of us.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Pathetic Apology To Our Grandchildren

Dear future generations,

Many of us older folks realize we have done lots of serious damage to the planet you and your offspring will inherit. Under our watch, rivers and oceans have become polluted, the earth's  soils, vegetation and other forms of life depleted and contaminated, and its atmosphere dangerously poisoned and overheated.

We realize good planets are hard to find, and we didn't do this with any intention of harming you or keeping you from enjoying the good life we've been able to have here during our brief stay. Please understand we were simply looking out for our own interests, looking for all the ways possible to live as comfortably, conveniently and well-off as we felt entitled to.

Looking back, we realize we could and should have been able to live with homes and lawns half as large and which would have required far less energy and other resources to maintain. We could have used half the amount of fuel consumed by our many miles of travel in our SUV's and RV's, and been content with half the foods transported from all over the world to satisfy our palates. We could have availed ourselves of more of what we could have been producing and using locally and in season.

But our being able to experience all of this Mammon-sourced comfort, convenience, and conspicuous consumption proved to be a temptation just too great to resist, even though we meant no harm, really we didn't.

Maybe our best excuse for all this is that we simply became addicted to hoarding more and more stuff. We became hooked on having walk-in closets full of more clothes and shoes than we could possibly wear, having freezers, pantries and refrigerators full of far more food than we needed, and two-car garages with late model vehicles with all the latest accessories. We became as addicted to the lifestyle of the wealthiest 3-5% of the world's inhabitants as some people become dependent on alcohol or crack cocaine.

And we found ourselves unable or unwilling to find a cure.

So please try to understand. And meanwhile we hope you'll be OK in spite of our leaving your earth home in such a mess. I guess we figured everything was in God's hands, and if things got too bad Jesus would surely step in and rapture everyone away to a better place, somewhere where there would be no human-caused pollution or devastation to worry about.

Really, that's what we assumed would happen.

So mea culpa. God have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Another Death By Suicide At A Virginia Prison

Donald Edward Worrell 1943-2019
2015 photo
Sometime on September 23, 2019, Donald Edward Worrell, age 76, hanged himself in his cell at the Buckingham Correctional Center. According to a friend of his, Mr. Worrell, was a "tall, gentle, humble, soft spoken man" who had been denied parole for the 21st time for a crime he committed forty years ago.

"I've never seen Donny raise his voice at anyone or do anything violent towards anyone all the years that I have known him," a fellow prisoner testified, "He was just a humble, easy going guy."

According to inside reports, Mr. Worrell had begun attending Sunday night church services several months ago, but failed to show up on Sunday, September 22.

Suicides are an all too familiar tragedy in Virginia prisons, where even model prisoners are denied release time after time on the basis of "the seriousness of the crime," no matter how transformed they have become since their crime or crimes have been committed.

Adrianne Bennett, chair of the Virginia Parole Board, is known to have said that the remaining prisoners legally eligible for parole under the "old law" (incarcerated before parole was abolished in 1995) are the "worst of the worst" in terms of the crimes for which they have been sentenced.

But what if, due to an offender's personal penitence and thorough change of life, he or she may have joined the ranks of the "best of the best," having demonstrated the ability to be infraction free in the worst environment imaginable, a state prison?

People of faith believe in a God who is capable of bringing about that very kind of transformation in anyone who sincerely seeks it.

And after all, isn't the DOC all about "corrections'?
Here's what another fellow inmate wrote in honor of Mr. Worrell:

"I'm Done"

No more time to waste, I'm near the end of the line...
I've given it my all - and now I've run out of time...
In my heart - remains the fond memories of close family and friends...
And yet, here, I dissolve away - my spirit driven into finality.
"I'm Done" - I say - for they have no more to hold over top my head.
Maybe they'll regret me being gone, when I'm gone to the dead.
I pray one or two - or even a few, will remember my joyful ways.
And they could find strength in it - to live much brighter days.
Yes, "I'm Done" - I say, for only to God do I cling.
No more wasted time, I'm leaving it behind - "This I must Do."
Please remind those who struggle - my fight was until the end.
Live in peace and be wise, this is my final message to you I send.
"I'm Done," and it's okay - I'm going to live in the spiritual realm.
Because I'm on the high seas with God, and He's the only One at the helm.

Written by R. L. White (9/24/2019)

"Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wing I take refuge until the storm passes by."   Psalms 57:1