Thursday, August 6, 2020

Retirement Units Again Slated For Demolition

These well kept VMRC homes are to be demolished to make room for more upscale units.
Plans by the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community to replace some of its housing units along Park Road with more expensive ones were put on hold earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But recently VMRC residents were notified that a local construction firm will be demolishing and replacing the first of three of these fourplex units this fall, with the other two slated for replacement over the next two years. This will directly affect a total of twelve resident households.

VMRC is responding to increased demands by well-to-do retirees for more upscale accommodations than are presently available in the Village, even though there are plenty of people (like ourselves) who are on its waiting list for homes of this kind as we consider retiring and downsizing. The word from VMRC is that catering to more people of greater means than ours helps VMRC be better able to afford to meet the needs of those who can pay less, in a kind of trickle-down economics.

Maybe its just my frugal upbringing that causes me distress over the destruction of perfectly decent and comfortable homes for the benefit of more affluent retirees. At one level I understand VMRC's logic, and I truly respect the board members and administrators with whom I have spoken, all good, caring people. But is it OK to ask whether this corresponds with the economics Jesus lived and taught? Or to ask what kind of retirement housing he would favor?

Meanwhile Faith in Action, a Coalition of two dozen local congregations, has chosen the affordable housing crisis as its main focus for this year. This choice was made before the economic downturn that has resulted in 140 local households facing possible eviction in the next few weeks as programs providing temporary rent and mortgage payment relief come to an end. 

This also comes at a time when refugees worldwide are being rendered homeless in unprecedented numbers, and Mennonite Central Committee, like other world relief organizations, is experiencing revenue shortfalls of millions of dollars.

Kyrie eleison.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

This Dark History Needs To Be Canceled Next

This death-dealing WW I era cannon located at the former Harrisonburg High School was fired off as a part of a Memorial Day event last year.
Many of us are becoming ever more aware of the dark stain of racism on our history. We look back with a renewed horror over the genocide of native Americans, the brutal exploitation of African slaves, and the systematic denial of the rights of African-Americans. How could so many of us people of privilege have been so blind to these realities--and so bland in our response?

In this time of soul searching we rightfully look for ways to remove the symbols of this blight on our past, ask which monuments we should replace, whose life stories we should memorialize, and what kinds of repentance and restitution we need to be seriously engaging in.

And while we are all too slowly learning these lessons, should we also be asking what our current blind spots are, what kinds of similar evils we will later look back on with profound regret at having condoned, justified and even embraced?

Here's one pressing example--war making and militarism.

At the risk of distracting from our need to focus on racism, I pray that in the not too distant future whole generations will rise up and ask, How could any decent human beings have ever armed themselves with swords, spears, guns and bayonets and engaged in the systematic and wholesale slaughter of their own species? How could we have devised and perfected ever more deadly weapons capable of blowing human bodies to bits and of blasting, burning and obliterating whole populations? And how could we have allowed ourselves to be deceived into believing any this was in any way justifiable, honorable and/or noble?

I am not suggesting we disrespect the memories of the millions who have died in our past wars. Far from it. Rather that we engage in a worldwide effort to defund, dismantle and discredit the barbaric systems that have caused the deaths and devastation caused by war, just as we have delegitimized practices like cannibalism, slavery, racial discrimination, torture, inquisitions, witch trials, public hangings and burning people at the stake.

Aligning ourselves with Jesus and the prophets will give us the ability to reject the insanity of the twin evils of militarism and racism and to dream of a future in which swords will be shaped into plowshares, wolves will lie down with lambs, and we will study war no more.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was widely criticized for seeing the connection between these twin sins as he courageously opposed US involvement in the Vietnam war and the disproportionate number of young black men who were being sacrificed in that bloody invasion.

Now is the time for God's people to be sure they stand firmly on the right side of history, and to embrace the kind of justice and mercy that never needs to be erased.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

A Virtual Sunday School Lesson On Inequality

The populations of the US and Canada (on the left side of map), and Japan (on the far right), with one chess piece each to show relative numbers of people, control a vastly disproportionate amount of the world's wealth, as represented by the pennies on the map.
In the absence of having regular Sunday School at their church during the pandemic, I've enjoyed having a monthly video class with two of our grandsons.

Today's lesson was based on Genesis 1: 26-31 and Matthew 14:13-21 in their Message version of the Bible. In the first passage God mandates us humans, described as "godlike" and "reflecting God's nature," as being responsible for the care of all creation, including the abundant variety of food sources on the planet. In the second, Jesus has his disciples share their loaves and fishes with a large crowd of hungry people, blessing their gift by multiplying it so everyone had enough, and with 12 baskets full of food left over.

Based on information I found online I had them first place a total of 30 chess pieces on the earth's continents to represent the approximate distribution of the world's people, as follows:

US and Canada: A King (1)
Europe: A Queen, Bishop, Knight and Castle (4)
Asia (not including Japan): A Knight, Castle, three Bishops and twelve Pawns (17)
Japan: A King (1)
Central and South America: A Queen, Knight and Pawn (3)
Africa: A Castle and three Pawns (4)

I then had them take 60 pennies, representing the world's wealth, and imagine how they would see God wanting these distributed by those made in the Creator's "image and likeness." They agreed, of course, that everyone should share equally, but I then had them place the pennies on the map according to the information in the simulation game I found online, as follows:

US and Canada: 19 pennies
Europe: 19 pennies
Asia (not including Japan): 8 pennies
Japan: 8 pennies
Central and South America: 4 pennies
Africa: 2 pennies

I needed to point out, of course, that these are very approximate comparisons, and that there are vast inequities within each continent or part of the world. My aim was simply to show that an earth created with more than enough resources for everyone nevertheless has ever more millions on the verge of starvation--while many of the rest of us enjoy far more than our share.

We closed with these wise words from the the Proverbs (Message translation), a book of instructions for young people on how to become good, God-fearing adults:

Mercy to the needy is a loan to God,
    and God pays back those loans in full.
Proverbs 19:17
Generous hands are blessed hands
    because they give bread to the poor.
Proverbs 22:9

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Old Order Hymn Composer Has Valley Roots

This rare photo of Harry Showalter, with oldest daughter Esther (on his right) and surviving sister Mary Beery, was taken on his 100th birthday. (photocopy courtesy of granddaughter Elizabeth Showalter)

Not to the strong is the battle,
Nor to the swift is the race,
But to the true and the faithful
Vict'ry is promised through grace.
- Harry Showalter, 1957*

Harry Showalter, a little known Old Order Mennonite (a member of the Ohio Wisler group), composed the words and melodies of 18 gospel songs and hymns, and wrote tunes for four more. He lived to be over 102, and wrote most of his published songs and hymns when he was in his 80's and 90's.

Born on August 13, 1889, Harry was the fifth child of Hettie (Rohrer) and Daniel Pennybaker Showalter who lived near Singers Glen, just north of Harrisonburg. His parents named him Henry R. (for Rohrer), after Hettie's oldest brother, but growing up with his four older siblings (and later four younger ones), he acquired the nickname "Hen," which he very much disliked. So over time he became known by his family and others as "Harry," the name he went by for the rest of his life.

Harry's parents' farm along Snapp's Creek was not far from the village of Singers Glen, sometimes referred to as the birthplace of gospel music in the American South. It was here that Joseph Funk had set up a printing press over fifty years earlier and published, among other works, Mennonite Hymns and the Harmonia Sacra. Joseph Funk's mother was the daughter of Jacob Showalter, Hettie's ancestor who emigrated to the new world in 1750, so the two families were related.

Music was always an important part of Harry's life. According to his sister Mabel, "When Harry was just a boy, he sat on the back step with a songbook while other children played." And at the early age of ten, soon after his family moved to a farm near Rushville, he attended his first singing school at the Bank Mennonite Church, taught by Jake Showalter, which added to his interest in hymns and hymn singing.

Harry and his siblings were known to have strong voices that blended well. He enjoyed singing tenor with his siblings at home, harmonizing with his brother John, who sang bass, and his sisters Ida and Annie, who sang alto and soprano.

In December of 1910, at age 21, Harry embarked on a year-long trip by train that took him all the way to California, visiting relatives and working part-time jobs along the way. Upon his return he became a baptized member of the Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church near Dayton, but in the summer of 1913 he moved to Columbiana, Ohio, and became an active part of the Wisler Old Order group, with whom he lived and served the rest of his life as a song leader and trustee.

One of his primary reasons for his move to Ohio was his romantic interest in Sadie Weaver, and the couple were happily married at her home in November 24, 1914. It was was during the year prior to his marriage that he composed his first song that was later published, one that seems fitting in its references to both the blessings and griefs that were to become a part of his remarkable life:

Often when we sit and ponder o'er the cares that life may bring,
We can only look to Jesus, our Redeemer and our King;
Tho sore trials may surround us, or our way may be more smooth,
'Tis by these blessings or afflictions that He doth our motives prove.

While mistakes are ever near us, and our motives miss their aim,
We should not become discouraged, but believe that Christ, the same;
Yesterday, today, tomorrow, will forgive us if we come
With hearts possessing godly sorrow and an honest, pleading tongue.

Disappointments may surround us, chastenings may come severe,
But we have the blessed promise that a comforter is near;
Whom the Lord loves He will chasten, and He scourgeth every son
Whom He receiveth into glory, ever say, "His will be done."

In our upward, pilgrim journey, may we to each other show
Love unchangeable, unfading, that in peace we onward go;
Till the summons at death's portals shall our weary eyelids close,
Then may we meet those gone, immortal, who are free from cares and woes.

Harry and Sadie were blessed with their first child, Esther Virginia, on December 18, 1915. Tragically, their joy turned to grief as Sadie developed a high fever, became extremely ill and died the day after Christmas, leaving Harry to care for little Esther with the help of friends, relatives, and Sadie's sister Melissa.

On August 19, 1920, Harry married Melissa, and the couple had five children together, three girls and two boys. Their first child, a daughter, lived only two days, and the fourth, a son, died of pneumonia at five months of age. Then his beloved Melissa died of heart failure on June 27, 1963, leaving him a widower for the second time at age 73.

Esther, his firstborn daughter, looked after her father as long as she was able, but died December 16, 1990, nearly two years before Harry's death on August 10, 1992. Harry was buried on what would have been his 103rd birthday, three days later.

Harry had composed only one other published hymn, Not To The Swift Is The Battle, by 1957, and it was not until he was a widower in his 80's and 90's that he went on to write texts and tunes for a total of 16 others. He also composed tunes for four other texts, two written by his granddaughter Elizabeth. John Overholt, publisher of the Christian Hymnary, did most of the four-part harmonizations for his songs.

All of these 22 hymns and gospel songs were published by his son Elmer Showalter in 1988 as Hymns of Tribute. Six of the hymns can also be found in Overholt's Christian Hymnary, and eight in the 1987 Zion's Praises

Here is the last verse of Harry's final composition, Love of Jesus, written in 1986, when Harry was in his late 90's:

Why not work for Jesus while it's called today,
For the night will come when when work is done away;
You'll receive a bright reward, To be present with the Lord,
And the saints that reign throughout eternity.

His granddaughter Elizabeth wrote the following tribute:

To write a hymn is not so hard
When inspirations come.
Take up your pen and write them down
To fit the tune you hum.

This talent God has given you
Will be remembered long;
For near and far hearts will be blest
Who sing your sacred songs.


"The Swift Years Come and Go--Life of Harry Showalter" by Naomi Rosenberry and Alta  Showalter, self published 1989.

"Hymns of Tribute II" published by Elmer Showalter in 1988 (second printing 1991).

Phone conversations with granddaughter Elizabeth Showalter of Columbiana, Ohio and with niece Lois Showalter of Dayton, Virginia.

* These words, the first lines of verse one of Showalter's Not to the strong is the battle, appear to have been borrowed from the refrain of  Fannie Crosby's Conquering now and still to conquer. Crosby lived from 1820-1915.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Brad Wins A Song Writing Contest--Again

Over the past number of years our Pittsburgh-based singer-song writer son has submitted an entry in the annual Just This Guy Song Writing Contest, where he has frequently been one of the winners. This time the theme was, aptly, "song contests," and each entry was to include the following:
1. The motivation for participating or not participating in a song contest.
2. A difficulty of song contests.
3. A positive aspect of the song contest competition.
And as always, Bonus Points for using the word MONKEY.
Here's the result, for which he earned the $400 first prize this year:
a SONG CONTEST is an oxymoron,
find some chords you can hang your heart on,
you’ll never lose anytime you sing the truth
I sent my song and my $30
to be turned down by a team of scholars,
or their intern, Bob, whoever they gave that job to?..
now I’ve never been a fan of keeping score,
if you tell me that it’s free, I’ll have some more,
when somebody wants to hear the song I sing,
that’s all the PRIZE that I hope for,
but there are moments when we all want to be loved,
want someone to tell us that we’re good enough,
in those moments I have sent my best songs off,
like throwing darts into the dark…
play it like a scratch card,
maybe you could win a new guitar?…
now I’m a sport and I like a CHALLENGE,
but I’m not sure how to strike a balance
between making art, and all that other “tryin’ to make it” part,
I’ve never been accused of selling out,
if all the MONKEYs say it’s cool, I have my doubts,
I want a song to wake me up, and call my bluff,
and break my heart, and make me shout,
but there are moments when we all say, “what the hay?”
the REQUIREMENTS of life seem much too great,
that’s when we need a song to tell us it’s okay,
no matter what the judges say…
on the road for 3 days,
to play 2 songs on the main stage?..
and I’ve got friends who swear they’ll never enter one again,
and other friends who’ve done them all, and often win…
a song contest is a strange procession,
step right up, make your plain confession,
you can’t lose anytime you sing the truth…

You can hear it here here's another of Brad's recent songs I really like: 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Jail Uses Restraint Chair For Suicidal Inmates

Charged with being drunk in public, a young woman was recently kept in a restraint chair for hours in the holding unit of our local jail. This was because she was in a highly confused and suicidal state after having been sexually assaulted while allegedly under the influence of a date rape drug.

In spite of her repeated pleas to be able to go to the bathroom and to have the straps on her arms and legs adjusted due to her severe discomfort, the officers present kept her in the chair, following jail protocol.

This led me to submit another FOIA request to Sheriff Hutcheson regarding the frequency of the use of the restraint chair. As always, the sheriff's response, via one of his officers, was professional and timely, a summary of which follows:

Use of Restraint Chair, January 1 to June 30, 2020

The restraint chair was used a total of 57 times. Thirty-one of these were for individuals who were highly combative (often under the influence of a mind-altering drug) and who were danger to others. The other twenty-six times were for "medical reasons," cases where people were deemed be in danger to themselves, as in the incident above.

The total number of hours the restraint chair was used during this six-month period was 231.5 hours, with 4.06 hours being the average length of use. The longest time was 8 hours and the shortest a mere ten minutes.

I have great respect for the sheriff, and have had numerous conversations with him about these and other concerns. My appeal has been that the jail, through its contract with our local Community Services Board, provide a trained person to be a calming and therapeutic presence fo an inmate who is in a delusional or highly depressed state. I've also suggested that a group of local mental health counselors be on call on a volunteer basis for such situations.

In a community of caring people and one that is rich in available resources, we should be able to come up with humane ways of responding to people in severe emotional distress.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

An Eco-Friendly Way To Help Celebrate Gemeinschaft Home's 35th Anniversary

Can you save some once-used grocery bags for
our take-out celebration August 28?
Here's the latest on Gemeinschaft Home's 35th Anniversary Dinner set for August 28!

For our fundraiser and celebration we are inviting all of our supporters and friends to a "Picnic With Gemeinschaft" meal that can be picked up in a-drive through between 4:30 and 6 pm Friday or Saturday evening at the Park View Mennonite Church just north of EMU.

Meals must be reserved online or by calling Gemeinschaft Home at 434-1690 by August 20. In honor of our 35th year of operation we are suggesting a minimum donation of $35 (we hope everyone will give more!) per meal.  The proceeds will go toward our 2020 Vision Campaign Goal of $220,000.

The meal will be catered by Jan Henley of Lucien's Catering (formerly with A Bowl of Good). The choices are beef or chicken barbecue, with bun, coleslaw, baked beans, and potato salad, with a lemon bar for dessert, or a vegetarian or vegan meal featuring a kale salad and sourdough bread instead of the beef or chicken option.

You can help, not only by dropping off some clean carry-out bags several days before the event but by inviting your friends and by sharing information about the celebration on social media and in whatever ways you can.

The Gemeinschaft address is P. O. Box 288, Harrisonburg, VA 22803.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Gospel According to Ruth

Ruth, a very ordinary peasant, is at the heart of God's story.
Not to the strong is the battle,
Nor to the swift is the race,
But to the true and the faithful,
Victory is promised through grace.

That an obscure peasant, a woman, and a non-Jewish foreigner at that, should be the main character in a book of the Hebrew Bible named after her is beyond extraordinary. 

Think about it. Ruth never led an army, never held any political office, never preached any great sermons or ever wrote a book. Far from accomplishing anything momentous or miraculous, she was in fact among the least powerful people in her community, a widow living on the edge of poverty, a foreign worker doing the most menial and demeaning of tasks, gleaning leftover heads of barley in others' fields.

But hers is a story of how God redeems and saves the the marginalized and impoverished. And this is not through any miracle or magic--no daily manna in the wilderness or ravens bringing needed provisions--but through the kindness and hospitality of God's people. Her story is a preview of coming attractions, when communities of faith generously sell whatever needed in order to make provision for others, so there is "no needy person among them."

This is truly a gospel, a story of "good news" for our time. One that assures us we can all find a place at the welcome table, and that there is enough bread and blessing for everyone in a community that shares generously.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Join Me For A "100-Mile Prayer Walk" For MCC

Since I've been advised against taking part in public events, I've come up with an
alternative to this year's SOS "Hundreds for Hundreds" Walk. 
As a part of the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale's efforts to raise desperately needed money for Mennonite Central Committee during a worldwide pandemic, our SOS (Sharing Our Surplus) Committee is sponsoring a special "Hundreds for Hundreds" Walk August 23. Through this and other means we are hoping to enlist large numbers of people to help make this the greatest fundraising year ever--in honor of MCC's 100th anniversary and in light of unprecedented needs around the world.

My own modest plan for helping this cause is to prayerfully walk a total of 100 miles between now and the date of the Sale, October 3-4, and to enlist as many people of all ages as possible to make generous contributions during this time. But we hope all who can will solicit generous sponsors and donors for the actual two-mile Refugee Walk planned in Harrisonburg August 23, starting and ending at Community Mennonite Church. Representatives from MCC will be present in the parking lot area with information on refugee and other needs and to collect contributions by cash, check or credit card. Walkers will be encouraged to wear masks and to maintain appropriate distance during the walk.

Interested individuals, families and youth groups can also plan their own walks or other fundraising activities,  and make their own generous contributions at any time. For my part, I am not actively seeking sponsors as such, but I will be urging people to visit the Relief Sale donation page frequently during the next months.

We also urge everyone to "Like" the SOS Refugee Facebook page and encourage all of their friends to share the link on social media. The "Learn More" link will connect them to the donation page.

This is not about seeing how successful we Virginians can be at fundraising. Rather, it is about responding to the crying needs of millions whose very lives are at stake due to food shortages, lack of medical care and from the spread of COVID-19, especially in densely populated refugee camps.

Here are among the things I will be praying for on my daily walks, hoping to encourage others to do the same:

1) For an outpouring of generosity worldwide for millions of our neighbors in need.
2) For the efforts of MCC and other relief organizations attempting to meet some of those needs.
3) For an end to wars, persecutions, famines, floods, locust plagues and other disasters that add to the number of people fleeing for their lives.
4) For the health, safety and resettlement of families in crowded and "temporary" refugee camps, some of whose children have lived there for all of their lives.
5) For God's mercy on all of us who remain well-to-do and who live in comfort and ease while so many are experiencing unimaginable levels of despair.
6. For Mark Keller (434-4535), Jason Ropp and others who are coordinating the Walk.

Here are four possible responses:

Monday, July 6, 2020

The President's July 3 Speech At Mt. Rushmore

Did the president make his best speech ever, as some maintain, or did he continue to make sweeping statements that polarize and divide? 

I'm posting the middle segment of Mr. Trump's recent address to encourage readers to judge for themselves--and to faithfully pray for him every day:

THE PRESIDENT: ...Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.


THE PRESIDENT:  Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.  Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing.  They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive.  But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them.  (Applause.)


THE PRESIDENT:   One of their political weapons is “Cancel Culture” — driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.  This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and our values, and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America.  (Applause.)  This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped, and it will be stopped very quickly.  We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life.  (Applause.)

In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance.  If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.  It’s not going to happen to us.  (Applause.)

Make no mistake: this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution.  In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress.

To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Not on my watch!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  True.  That’s very true, actually.  (Laughter.)  That is why I am deploying federal law enforcement to protect our monuments, arrest the rioters, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  I am pleased to report that yesterday, federal agents arrested the suspected ringleader of the attack on the statue of Andrew Jackson in Washington, D.C. — (applause) — and, in addition, hundreds more have been arrested.  (Applause.)

Under the executive order I signed last week — pertaining to the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act and other laws — people who damage or deface federal statues or monuments will get a minimum of 10 years in prison.  (Applause.)  And obviously, that includes our beautiful Mount Rushmore.  (Applause.)

Our people have a great memory.  They will never forget the destruction of statues and monuments to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, abolitionists, and many others.

The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats, in every case, is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions.

Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains.  The radical view of American history is a web of lies — all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition...

Click here for the full text of the speech.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Guest Post By Professor Neufeldt-Fast: Political Rally At The Foot Of Holy Mountain 1935

Arnold Neufeldt-Fast is Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Theology at the Seminary at Tyndale University in Toronto. Here, with his permission, is a part of what he posted on Anabaptist Collective--A Mennonerds (Facebook) Group. 

1933 postcard courtesy of Professor Neufeldt-Fast: "What the King (Fredrick the Great) conquered, the Prince (Otto von Bismarck) shaped, and the Field Marshal (Paul von Hindenburg) defended, was rescued and united by the soldier (Adolf Hitler)."
Around the time of the summer solstice well over 10,000 people gathered tightly-packed under a gloriously clear evening sky in the outdoor amphitheater at the national “holy mountain” (“Heiligen Berg”).

On June 22, 1935 a key national leader--Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Minister Dr. Joseph Goebbels--arrived by plane and entered the flag-draped stage together with the state governor. Words of thanks were extended to those who worked hard behind the scenes to make this possible.

The event was covered in detail by national newspapers and the following is a composite of the speech.

The iconic rocky monument was birthed out the spirit of the nation and carved out of stone--a visible expression of national vision and inspiration for future generations.

There is no better place to celebrate the nation’s greatness and to pay tribute than beneath this magnificent, incredible majestic mountain. It embodies the nation’s will, and will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our people and our freedom—the most exceptional nation to exist on earth. In hundreds of years people will still come to come to this rocky site and the monument our people created. They will stand in awe, of how it inspired a new national focus for the challenges of this day.

The ruling party’s purpose from its early years has been to protect the state from within. The security of our own people has always been our first task through this term of office.

Internal law and order is one of the pillars upon which our state rests and will live eternally. We will never allow an existential threat from within to take root and attack our liberty. The other pillar is our armed forces who secure our borders. Internationally we are sometimes accused of worshipping the state; that’s the furthest from the truth. It’s not about the state, but about our people. We must take care of our nation first.

There is new energy stirring and rising from within to make us great again. Maybe our prayers have not been perfect, but our works have displayed divine blessing (applause). God has helped us. That’s why we have the right and privilege to celebrate in this way this evening. That is why can look full of awe and fervor at these flags and salute. While we carry the responsibility for the nation today, we summon the bravery and determination of our national ancestors.

People across the nation are flocking to our movement because in other parts of this great nation there was nothing of our nation left to be found. But a new age is dawning again. We do not need to be ashamed.

Our party is here to stay, because we alone have the intelligence and the strength and the courage and determination to solve the great tasks that are given to us today. In a world full of enemies, isn’t it a miracle that this movement has been so successful? We know that the problems of future will not be solved alone through understanding and intelligence, but primarily through courage and character. One has to try the impossible to achieve greatness.

We live in the most magnificent country in the history of the world, and soon it will greater than ever before. What makes us stronger than other nations is that we are concentrating our national will to greatness in one direction and on one man. Just think, if our party was not at the helm at this hour, there would be not be seven million but ten or twelve million people unemployed!

We stand united--thousands of men and women stand at this iconic rock site—with hearts that swell with pride, in contrast to our pitiful, capitulating opposition who are ashamed.

Other nations once viewed us with contempt as well. Now they view us with respect. When we started, we made the commitment to fight for liberty and national sovereignty. We’ve stayed true to that commitment, and tonight at the celebration we speak up loudly and strongly to recommit ourselves to that struggle and resolve to defend the integrity of our country.

The newspaper reports described the dramatic music deep in the woods, and bright, flaming lights across the rock faces under the starry sky. In this way the celebration came to a close.

Six weeks later Dr. Goebbels held a larger rally in Essen where he took aim at agitators, the press, and social democrats—and clarified the party's positive stance toward the churches. Again a composite summary of that August 4 address:

It is clear that we know who our enemies are and that we will throw them in the dust (to great applause). The agitators are the radical left-wing (he calls them social democrats, even Bolsheviks) and Germany has the Party to thank that they have dealt with them. Especially if by chance a Jew is arrested and held by police, fake foreign press tries to make a public crisis out of it. If you look at a Jew the wrong way in Berlin, you will hear the cries of injustice in the fake press from London to Beijing. The foreign press does not rule our country, but we do (passionate applause). We will exterminate any anti-government sentiment. Yet we don’t want to stoke a culture war. We know however that there are certain groups that seem to want a culture war. We will ensure that trouble makers will receive draconian punishments.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Just Blessed With My 81st Lap Around The Sun

The birthday mug I received in the mail says "I'm not 81, I'm 18 with 63 years of experience."
Oldest son Brad, better at math than I, suggested I give my newly acquired age as "three to the fourth power" 3⁴ = 81 (3 × 3 × 3 × 3)

I rather like the sound of that, as I really don't feel a day older than 81, even though today I am exactly that, having celebrated a memorable birthday yesterday.

Besides getting scores of blessings and best wishes from Facebook friends, I had a delightful conversation with each of our children and grandchildren, with the ones from Rochester (via video) singing Happy Birthday and lighting a birthday candle for the occasion.

My 90-year old brother called me from Costa Rica, and my only remaining sister did the same from Cumberland, Virginia. Another former neighbor and childhood friend called me from his home in Madison County, as did a fellow member of our local house church who also sang Happy Birthday for me.

Another longtime family friend and neighbor, Luann (Miller) Bender stopped by with a beautiful arrangement of homegrown flowers (above), without even realizing it was my birthday. Perfect timing!

And my precious wife Alma Jean pampered me all day long, which she pretty much does every day anyway, with good food and lots of love and attention.

It all makes getting another year older totally worth it.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Gemeinschaft Home Staff And Board Speak Out

This recent statement is the result of several weeks of intense conversation.
What began as an effort by the Gemeinschaft Home board to draft a statement against racism evolved into a process in which staff members became actively engaged.

All of us realize that actions, not words, are what really matter, but our prayer is that all we do will clearly reflect our commitment to racial equality and "liberty and justice for all."

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Modified Virginia Relief Sale Aims To Raise Over $300,000 For Desperate Refugees Worldwide

The annual auction will be on line this year.
Here's the latest update from our Relief Sale Board:

The Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale has had a long tradition of uniting people for the common cause of raising money for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to help people around the world "In the Name of Christ." Last year we were able to raise over $300,000, our highest amount ever. In fact, almost every year that amount increases! 

Each year it takes many volunteers working together to pull off such an event and we very much appreciate all of their work and efforts. The Relief Sale Board wants to proceed with caution to protect the health and safety of those volunteers and everyone who supports the sale. 

The 54th Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale will look very different this year due to COVID restrictions and social distancing
recommendations. Although we are still exploring various options, here is a preview of what will be happening:

- There will be an online auction only. We are currently having the online auction website/app built for us. Items to be auctioned off will need to be photographed before a specified date to be displayed on the auction website. Items will then be brought to the
Rockingham Fairgrounds the morning of October 1. We will have all items displayed for people to view Thursday (October 1) through Saturday (October 3) at specified times. All through this time, people can be bidding online for each item. The auction will then start closing items Saturday morning (you can watch items/prices live online). Once an item closes, the high bidder would then come to the fairgrounds to pick up the item. We are also exploring shipping options. Payment could be done online with credit card or in person.

- We will still encourage people to donate baked goods to be sold at the fairgrounds. People can buy these items as they view the auction items (Thursday through Saturday).

- We are exploring the idea of having drive through dinners available. We could possibly have Beef BBQ, fresh Mississippi Catfish, Chicken BBQ, or other items available. We will be contacting those in charge of different foods to gauge their comfort level in participating this year.

- The Run for Relief 5K is still happening in one form or another.

- The Sharing Our Surplus (SOS) committee is planning a family-friendly three-mile "Hundreds For Hundreds Campaign" Refugee Relief Walk for 6 pm August 23. Participants are to solicit sponsors and/or simply make a generous donation. Those not wanting to join in a group walk can choose another time and place, and make contributions as indicated below*. For more information on the Walk contact Mark Keller or 434-4535.

- We invite churches to do their own fundraisers for MCC. We would gladly publicize the event for you through our facebook page and church newsletters. These events could be done at any time, not just on the Relief Sale weekend. We have considered the possibility of having 2-4 churches sell their items at a central location as a drive-through option.

- My Coins Count will continue to collect coins (or bills/checks). We will collect these at a location to be determined. Congregations could consider making some sort of matching donation.

- We encourage individual fundraising, like someone who recently made a lot of sweet rolls and sold them as a fundraiser for MCC. Think creatively in how you might raise money.

As MCC is celebrating its 100th year, let’s help make this the

Maybe we can even top the $300,000 we raised last year!
* Note: Credit card contributions can be made any time at Checks should be made out to "Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale" (with SOS in the memo line if you want it to go specifically for the "Hundreds for Hundreds" campaign for refugee relief).     
   The mailing address is Relief Sale, 601 Parkwood Road, Harrisonburg, VA 22802 (the Virginia Mennonite Conference Center).

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

You Know You're Filthy Rich When...

I see myself in the middle of this 16th century Italian painting by Jacopo Bassano.
"There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man’s table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores."   
- one of Jesus's stories, in Luke 16:19-21 (the Message)

We can be sure we are among the wealthy religious folks Jesus is addressing in this story when...

...we enjoy a life of luxury and ease that exceeds anything that could have been imagined by the Dives (Latin for "rich man") in Jesus's story, or by the wealthy family in the above 1550 painting.

...when each resident of our house has access to multiple rooms rather than each room having multiple residents.

...when we have pantries, freezers and refrigerators filled with an exotic variety of tasty foods from all over the world, with ready access to well-stocked supermarkets and wonderful restaurants.

...when as North Americans we receive extraordinarily good incomes based on 40-60 hours of work a week, and enjoy numerous vacation and other benefits, and can retire at age 65.

...when we have decent health insurance coverage, primary care physicians to respond to our every injury or illness, and all kinds of first responders, specialists and other healthcare providers when we face a medical crisis.

...when our closets are filled with enough clothes for several lifetimes--with garments made for us in far-off factories by workers putting in long hours at sweatshop wages.

...when each member of our household has access to one or more $15,000-$50,000 luxurious motorized and computerized vehicles to provide instant, convenient, and air-conditioned transportation whenever and wherever needed.

...when what we spend annually on entertainment, golfing and hunting trips, cruise vacations and other pastimes exceeds what most people have to live on in a giving year.

Note: I need the prayers, counsel and help of all God's people in light of our being in the top 3-5% of the world's wealthiest people.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Let's Repeal And Replace Retributive Justice--Three R's Of A Repentance-Based Alternative

Can we offer "liberty and justice for all?"
In a recent series of podcasts, one of our state senators lamented the number of parole releases granted by the Virginia Parole Board earlier this year. He and three Commonwealth's Attorneys, along with a former Governor of Virginia (the one who in 1995 signed the "truth in sentencing" law that eliminated parole for all except those sentenced prior to that time) all agreed that the sentences imposed by courts should be carried out in full, with 15% of time granted for good behavior.

I'm guessing most of these were God-fearing folks who believe in redemption, yet not one example was given of anyone in prison actually having been corrected or redeemed. They all seemed to agree that no one guilty of a serious crime should ever be released before they had been sufficiently punished, and that decades after the fact, all prisoners remain as dangerous and evil as they were when they committed their crime.

Likewise, I heard not one word of support for any release the Parole Board has ever granted, even when in line with the Board's stated mission, "to grant parole to those offenders whose release is compatible with public safety."

I fully understand the need victims and their families feel for retribution or revenge after having suffered some traumatic loss. But should our prisons be primarily for punishment or for rehabilitation, as indeed implied by the name "Department of Corrections?"

Otherwise, if justice calls for everyone sentenced to life in prison to remain on a de facto "death row" until they die, there seems to be little point in offering classes designed for their rehabilitation or for learning trades or skills they will never be able to use. For them, there seems to be little point in even having a Parole Board at all.

The fact is, even multiple life sentences would never be enough to compensate for the trauma of a rape or the terrible tragedy of a brutal loss of human life. Only genuine repentance on the part of a wrongdoer, met with tough love, amazing grace and ongoing accountability, is a viable alternative.

So what if we had a repentance-based justice system rather than a purely retributive one?

To be clear, true repentance is not merely a matter of feeling remorse for a wrong, but is a demonstration of a change of heart, direction and behavior that results in a transformed life.

What follows is very much a work in progress, representing some of my brainstorming as to how that might work. :

Restitution: Courts should be redesigned to focus on repairing harm rather than merely meting out punishment. Restorative justice processes would focus on the needs of victims for reparation and restitution, with offenders being mandated to work in whatever ways necessary and for as long as necessary to right their wrongs. Wherever possible those with jobs would continue their employment and continue to support their families, wearing electronic monitoring equipment if needed, and would be supervised, mentored and counseled by trained professionals and by members of their families, congregations and other appropriate agencies and organizations.

Relocation: In cases where offenders are unrepentant, are unwilling to work and to make restitution and/or are clearly a danger to others, individuals would be moved into secure rehabilitation centers where they would be taught job skills, civic responsibility and be offered psychological and drug treatment. Some individuals might literally be relocated to other communities and offered support and help as outlined above.

Rehabilitation: In all cases the ultimate goal would be to restore people's lives, support them in repairing harms they have caused, and to help them become fully responsible, tax-paying and constructive members of their communities.

Everyone wins when that happens.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Richard Nixon's Good-Sounding Words At The Presidential Prayer Breakfast, January 30, 1969

This photo of Nixon being sworn into office appeared on the front cover of the April 1969 Decision magazine, published by the Billy Graham Association. The two family Bibles used for the ceremony were open to Isaiah 2:4 (see below). Graham is on the right.
The lead article in the April, 1969, Decision magazine, "One Nation Under God," consisted of the text of a speech by then president Richard Nixon at the 1969 Presidential Prayer Breakfast, just five years before Nixon resigned in disgrace from his office. Nixon's remarks are examples of how the language of evangelical faith became seamlessly tied to American civil religion.

Here are key excerpts:

As I was preparing my inaugural address I did what I am sure every President who has had this responsibility did: I read the ones that had previously been delivered. They were very different, but one theme was common to every one of them. Each President as he was being inaugurated recognized, in his own way, the spiritual heritage of this nation, and asked for the blessing of God upon the country in its affairs at home and abroad.

...One of the great early presidents, Andrew Jackson, came to the Presidency from the battlefield; perhaps those who have read history are not aware of the deep religious faith that he had, which he perhaps had not then expressed, but to which in his later years, and particularly after he left the White House, he often attested.

...when President Jackson was asked to participate in a dedication ceremony marking the Battle of New Orleans, he refused because the ceremony was set for Sunday. Those who were inviting him said, "Mr. President, you fought the Battle of New Orleans on Sunday." President Jackson answered, "That was a matter of necessity. I am now speaking from choice."

...I say to all of you joining us here today at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast that of the many events in which I will participate, none will mean more to me personally. None, I think, will mean more to the members of the Cabinet and the Congress than this occasion. You have inspired us. You have given us a sense of the  continuity of history that brings us together. You have told us in a simple yet eloquent way that great as are the problems that confront us, with faith--faith in our God, faith in the ideals of our country--and with a deep dedication to what our role is in this nation and in the world, we are going to be able to make these next years great for this nation and great years for the world.

I believe that. And it is to that end that we dedicate ourselves today. That objective transcends all partisan considerations, and I am proud to stand here today in your presence; for you by being here indicate that you have not lost faith in this nation. You have not lost faith in the religious background that has sustained us. We are entering a period when, sustained by that faith, we will be able to meet the challenge that is ours--a challenge such as comes to very few people in the history of man. It is America's now.

Whether we succeed or fail will determine whether peace and freedom will survive in this world. We will meet the challenge. We will meet it because we are going to devote every hour of the day to see that we meet it properly. But we will meet it also because we will be sustained and inspired by the prayers of million of people across this world.

Those prayers do mean something, and through the medium of these words I want to thank the people of this nation and the people of the world for praying for us. We trust we shall be worthy of your prayers and of your efforts.


The article concludes with the following words by Billy Graham:

Two days ago I spent four hours with one of the theoreticians of the "New Left." We debated, we fought, we disagreed, we agreed. He said that within five years, unless his group's demands were granted, they would burn the country down. Then he added that in his opinion the only thing that would save America would be a religious awakening. With that, at least, I agreed.

When President Eisenhower was in Pittsburgh in 1955 he said, The history of free men is never really written by chance, but by choice--their choice." I believe that we have a choice; that our poverty problem, our race problem, the war problem, are problems of the heart, problems of the spirit. This is the basic crisis, and if we can solve the problem of the spirit, all of our problems can be solved. Therefore I believe it is time that we take our eyes off our shortcomings and our failures and put them on Christ, who said, "You must be born again." can have a new birth, and through you, America and the world can have a new birth.


Here is the Isaiah 2:4 text (New International Version)!

"He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples. 
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore."

Friday, June 12, 2020

Four Responses To The SOS “Hundreds for Hundreds” Campaign For Refugee Relief

In a time of desperate needs worldwide, MCC is facing a
shortfall of millions due to reduced revenue from MCC thrift
stores, relief sales and general contributions.
In celebration of Mennonite Central Committee’s 100th anniversary, the Virginia Relief Sale’s SOS Committee (Sharing Our Surplus) is launching a “Hundreds for Hundreds” campaign to raise much needed cash, check and credit card donations for MCC worldwide refugee relief.

Most of our efforts this year will be focused on promoting giving generously online. We are also planning a two-mile “Hundreds For Hundreds” SOS Walk in Harrisonburg Sunday, August 23 at 6 pm as a family-friendly fundraiser. Those who prefer not to do a public walk can get sponsors for a virtual walk at a time and place of their choosing.

MCC was formed in 1920 to provide desperately needed relief for Mennonites in famine and war-ravaged Ukraine. Over a three year period, it raised $1.3 million in food aid and purchased 50 tractors and plows to replace draft horses that had been destroyed or confiscated during the recent war. Today that would represent over $33 million worth of aid.

Today people all over the world are suffering the effects of similar—and even worse—wars and famines, combined with such disasters as locust plagues, floods and now a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 265 million people will experience severe food shortages this year, twice the number that faced starvation-level poverty a year ago. And among the populations most affected are the over 70 million refugees around the world.

Meanwhile, MCC income has dropped by some $5 million this year. The “Hundreds for Hundreds” campaign can help make up for this shortfall.

Here are four possible responses:

Level 1) No Giving. Just ignore the crisis, keep it “out of sight and out of mind.”

Upside: Low stress, minimal worry.
Downside: An indifference that can result in the heart becoming, like that of Seuss’s Grinch, “two sizes too small.”.

Level 2) Token Giving. Give just enough to help SOS keep raising 10% of the Virginia Relief Sale’s annual receipts.

Upside: An easier conscience, and a feeling of at least doing something to benefit needy refugees.
Downside: Only a minimal awareness of the suffering of those facing massive hardship and starvation.

Level 3) Generous Giving. Write a big check based on a genuine concern for millions in dire circumstances, but without diminishing our financial status or standard of living.

Upside: MCC and other charities minister to many more people and offer much more relief aid!
Downside: The gap between the very well to do and the very poor remains largely unchanged.

Level 4)  Pentecostal/Jubilee Style Giving. Follow Jesus’ call to “sell what you have,” radically downscaling all personal wealth, with an eye toward creating greater justice and equality worldwide.

Upside: Helps create a world in which there are “no needy persons among them,” while adding greatly to ones stock in the internationally-based “Company of Heaven.”
Downside: According to the teachings and life of Jesus, who “became poor for our sakes,” * there is no downside, and the rewards are eternal and immeasurable.

So as we make our choices, consider the prayer by 7-year-old Ben Zimmerly Jantzi:

"God, please help the poor get rich and the rich get poor, so they know what it feels like. And then, God, let everyone switch back to medium and let everyone have the same amount of food and money."   
* Radical re-investing may not mean becoming poor in terms of wealth used in the production of essential goods and services. That is, some may be entrusted with the stewardship (management) of farms, factories or other business enterprises worth millions. What Jesus asks is that we radically downsize and re-invest the kinds of personal and consumer wealth that is subject to loss by theft, economic downturns, depreciation and deterioration--simply because it is a wiser choice that results in better returns.

You can contribute online at or to the SOS "Hundreds for Hundreds" campaign on the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale site

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Taste Of Heaven Right Behind Our House

Surely on God's new earth we'll have some space to grow a nice row of sugar snap peas.
(View is from behind our house toward our neighbors' duplex)
Of all of life's pleasures, few of them compare to the joy of planting, cultivating and harvesting a garden--unless it is the joy of enjoying its fruit.

According to the book of Genesis, a productive garden was humanity's first home, and at the other end of the Bible's story we are told there will be trees bearing all manner of fruit, a different kind for each month of the year.

Between these two narratives, we learn that one of Jesus's favorite places was a garden that included a productive olive grove, the Garden of Gethsemane, and that Jesus's body was buried in a friend's memorial garden. Then on the morning of his resurrection--before dawn on Easter--Mary, one of his followers, mistook Jesus for a gardener.

So with God's interest in botany, horticulture and in all manner of living and growing things, I'm thinking there will be lots of garden space in the next life. Meanwhile, the time we spend in such spaces is rewarding not only for what is harvested for the body, but for what is resurrected in the soul.

Stormie Omartian, author of "Lord, I Want to Be Whole," writes, "One of the greatest things you can do outdoors is gardening. Getting your hands in the earth has a miraculous calming effect upon your whole being. Digging up weeds and planting flowers and vegetables is great therapy."

As a therapist, I heartily agree.

And I would add, applying layers of semi-composted, weed-inhibiting, soil enriching mulch from the mountain of leaves and grass clippings we collect each year adds to the pleasure. After years of doing this, our mostly clay soil has become a dark loam that is a pleasure to work with. Sugar snap peas, green and lima beans, tomato plants, sweet corn and all kinds of vegetables thrive on it, as do the army of earthworms that tirelessly work at improving the soil throughout the year.

Some separate flower, tea and salad gardens next to the house provide things like lettuce, spinach, onions, beets and carrots.

Now if we can just keep the nearby herd of deer at bay, we'll be fine.

We harvested some sugar snap peas this week, but the beans and corn in the 
foreground won't be ready until next month sometime.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

How German Mennonites Came To Defend The Use Of The 'Heil Hitler" Greeting

Facebook removed this post on the Anabaptist Collective site, but here are its main points.
Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, Associate Professor of Theology and VP and Dean of the Seminary at Tyndale University in Toronto, has done considerable research on European Mennonites prior to and during World War II. Some of his findings, including a recent post on the use of the "Heil Hitler" greeting, I found chilling and disturbing.

One quote he gives is by Walter [Jakob] Quiring, who in 1934 explained the “Heil Hitler” greeting as being the way in which millions of Germans “express their desire for strength, health, knowledge, in short, the blessing of God for their spiritual leader in his titanic battle against evil.”

Another Mennonite leader, Benjamin H. Unruh, who was exiled to Germany by the Stalin regime in 1921, wrote the following in 1937 to the District Administrator of Fernheim, the pioneer Mennonite colony in Paraguay:

“Heil Hitler” means that one heartily wishes the head of the new Germany hail [well-being]. Above all, believing Christians think of “salvation from God,” whom the Chancellor and Führer honestly confesses, for which we cannot be thankful enough. Just think of Stalin! ... In the Hitler greeting “Hitler” is in the dative case. Have you never read 1 Timothy 2:2? … Adolf Hitler wants nothing for himself, everything only for his Volk. I honour him with my whole heart, and I love him as one can only love a sovereign (Fürst means the first among his people!). Only history will reveal what God through Adolf Hitler has granted the German Volk in its entirety, including Germans in host countries, and what he will still grant to Europe and the world as well. Hitler is the great combatant of Stalin."

Elsewhere, Neufeldt-Fast states that the justification Mennonites and other professed Christians most often gave for supporting Hitler was his rhetoric on resisting the socialism of Stalinist Russia. Sadly, this rationalization resulted in many individuals and whole congregations embracing one of the most demonic regimes in history. Prussian Mennonite church leaders, he notes, "regularly signed formal and informal correspondence to each other in a way that linked traditional Mennonite piety with piety toward the Führer: 'With brotherly greetings, Heil Hitler!' ”

"History does not repeat," Neufeldt-Fast believes, "but it can rhyme." He concludes that apostasy is rarely obvious to people at the time they are embracing it.

This should serve as a reminder of how easy it is to become seduced by any mix of nationalism and the Christian faith.