Friday, February 28, 2020

Guest Post: Where Floods and Mold Do Not Destroy, And Termites Do Not Break In And Steal

Some damaged but salvageable possessions.
We received this e-letter from friends living in a slum area in Indonesia that was hard hit by recent flooding while they were in the states. 

I share it here with their kind permission:

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he had a lot to say about possessions.  In one of Jesus’ famous teachings (the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7), he says the following amazing things:

Matthew 6:19 NIV “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Obeying this seems nearly impossible, but in my adult life I have been trying the experiment of believing Jesus actually meant what he said here. I moved to Indonesia with one suitcase, one backpack, and my guitar. But over the years, it has been too easy to accumulate possessions (and having kids sure seems to increase the amount of stuff around the house!)

So on January 1, when we received news that a significant flood hit our neighborhood, I found myself acutely aware of how many possessions we had— that were probably affected by the flood. In the week that followed, as we awaited our airplane to fly back to Indonesia, I mentally walked through our house countless times, imagining the damage and what had to be thrown away.

Coming back to our home felt like a spiritual battle. The first day, Yugo came to our house on his own to do some cleaning.  We were surrounded by feelings of despair, overwhelmed by the task at hand, and questioning what we were doing bringing our children to live in such a place.  But prayer and worship helped us hear a different voice. The voice of our loving Father, who has a purpose for us here. The voice of our Lord, who promises us better things than only earthly possessions.

Matthew 6:31 “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

And so, with those promises in mind, we could settle back into life here. 

We are so grateful for all your prayers and support during this difficult time. We were overwhelmed with the financial gifts from friends, helping us replace everything we needed after the flood.

But this whole experience has reminded me to hold things with open hands. More floods could hit at any time. When we leave here each Friday, to go sabbath at our sabbath house, we prepare our house a little bit for the chance of flooding (put our mattresses on top of plastic bins, etc...).

Perhaps in the West, we can often live under the illusion that our possessions are safe, that our “earthly treasures” will remain ours at least until we die.  But nine years of living in slums in Indonesia continues to teach me that physical possessions are temporary. We can come home to find rats have eaten our table or washing machine. We discover books and bookcases eaten by termites or rotting with mold (even in our middle class sabbath house!). Rains can bring flooding again. Or we could get evicted and our house demolished at any time. So living in this space, we are forced to acknowledge that physical possessions are temporary gifts to be used to bless others--because if hoarded, they rot.  

We are invited to store up different kinds of treasures...

Meet one of our students... Yusuf (name changed):

Over the eight years we have lived in this neighborhood, we have met hundreds of different children and their families. Each child is unique and gifted in different ways. Some children have extra challenges, whether it is their parental situation, financial struggles, or a learning disability. Some children seem self-motivated and excel. Others seem to lack excitement about the learning process, dragging their feet and complaining about every task.

Yusuf was one of my students in our two year kindergarten program. He started a year later than most kids his age, so he was one of the oldest in his class (to read a story I wrote about Yusuf a year ago, click here).  For two years, I watched him struggle. He missed almost as many days as he came to school.  When we would do home visits, the excuse was often he just “didn’t want to come to school.” After we got to know the family better, we learned the days he did not come were often days his mom did not have 40cents to give him to buy snacks at school (a cultural expectation that the children hold tightly. Without their snack money, they do not want to come to school).

For years, Yusuf’s father was a garbage collector- a half day shift, pulling a cart around a middle-class neighborhood to collect the garbage. However, as is often the case, Yusuf’s dad was “filling in” for someone who “owned” the route, and a few months ago the route was taken away from him.  He now is just a garbage scavenger, gathering whatever recyclables he can along roads outside the community. Yusuf’s 18 year-old brother dropped out of elementary school years ago and also has been working to help the family. 

Yusuf started first grade back in July. To be honest, I did not have high hopes for him. With is non-stellar attendance record, I guessed he would struggle in school and not last long.

Imagine my surprise when we returned from our six-month furlough and learned from Yusuf’s mom that he is thriving in school! He ranks 4th in his class! Yusuf’s mom proudly showed me Yusuf’s school report card, which had a lot of high marks.  Yusuf’s mom is illiterate; in school forms she has Yusuf sign her name for her. She went on and on about how grateful she is for House of Hope- how we prepared Yusuf for school.

 It was one of those moments where I really felt the joy and the weight of the responsibility we carry. We have the privilege of preparing these kids to enter an educational system that will not be extra patient or give special attention to them. We get to give them a head-start; so that when they start school they already are able to read smoothly and to do basic math. We get to prepare students to surprise their teachers— “where did Yusuf go to kindergarten?”

House of Hope students are excelling in their elementary schools- many ranking #1 in their grade! But for me, hearing that Yusuf is doing so well confirmed for me how important this work is. As a teacher, I can never stop believing in a child’s potential. A teacher must carry the hope and continue to see a vision for their students even when the children themselves do not have it.

(A little disclaimer: not all students like Yusuf excel. Some continue to struggle. Some never master reading, and drop out before we can help them. As we walk around the community, there are plenty of kids we know who do not have happy endings to their educational tales. Perhaps because of this, we must celebrate the little victories.... like Yusuf).

A song that is carrying me: “Whatever Comes” by Rend Collective

Unfortunately, we all got sick with typhoid the first week of February, and the boys ended up needing to be hospitalized. After four days of IVs and antibiotics, they were well enough to go home. We are very thankful for all those who prayed for us during this stressful time! We are grateful for a quick recovery and restored appetites now. We were also very blessed by over 20 neighbors who came to visit us while we were in the hospital! They came bearing fruit. :)

We are so grateful our boys are enjoying being back home in the neighborhood. Simeon, along with ten new students, started school this past week at House of Hope. Normally, we only accept new students at the start of the school year in July. However, our 10 am class numbers had dropped down from 20 to 12 (people move away or drop out for various reasons), so we decided to add ten new kids. Simeon is loving it! We are very thankful!

Jeremi continues to thrive with his group of neighborhood buddies.  He joins the 8am House of Hope class, and we have registered him to start first grade in July at a private but affordable Seventh Day Adventist school one mile from our house.

Thank you for all your prayers and support!

Please continue to pray for us— that we would be agents of light and love, speaking truth and hope into hard situations. Pray that the Lord would meet people here, that our friends would come to know our good King.

With love,
Gracie and Yugo

Copyright © 2020 House of Hope, All rights reserved. Please DO NOT share this or forward it to anyone else without our permission.

Our mailing address is:
House of Hope
575 2nd Street
Harrisonburg, Va 22802

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Checking The Spread Of The "Affluenza" Virus

Retired residents in the VMRC homes along Park Road will soon be moved elsewhere
on campus so these units can be torn down to make room for more upscale housing.
Some forty years ago Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community dedicated Heritage Haven, an innovative HUD-subsidized apartment complex for lower income retirees. VMRC is the only retirement community in the Valley that offers this kind of option.

This was followed by VMRC creating multiple independent living units as a part of its Park Village campus. Both were hailed as state-of-the-art  retirement housing for low to medium income residents, units ranging in size from one bedroom with one bath to two bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths.

Now, only a few decades later,  VMRC is experiencing market pressure to replace the twelve Park Village units located along Park Road with more spacious and upscale homes like the newer ones across the street and across from the Park View Mennonite Church.

To many of us, residents and supporters of VMRC alike, this is a symptom of a disturbing trend, not one VMRC is necessarily creating or promoting, but one that reflects a viral spread of affluenza that is infecting us all. In my lifetime, homes for the well-to-do have become ever larger, featuring such amenities as multiple-car garages and walk in closets, even as the average number of occupants in these homes has decreased.

As an empty nester myself, I recognize the need to do some serious downsizing of my own, so I am not in a position to point a finger here. But I would appeal to all pastors, teachers, priests, rabbis, and other leaders of faith communities to address the creeping consumerism to which our scriptures devote far more attention than many other tenets of the faith we consider important.

Meanwhile, as we each seek to rid ourselves of our own affluenza infection, we can also share our personal concerns with the dedicated folks at VMRC, by contacting them directly or by sending a message on their Facebook page. These good people solicit our prayers and counsel as they plan for a future in which an optimal number of seniors, with or without large incomes, can receive the care they need.

Eventually VMRC may create a second campus that could increase the availability of more upscale units, but the cost of infrastructure (streets, water and sewer lines, etc.) is seen as prohibitive at this point, hence the current push to demolish and replace a number of perfectly functional and comfortable existing homes.

My big dream would be for VMRC to give priority to creating ever more affordable housing options, like its wonderful Heritage Haven complex for lower income retirees, and let other retirement communities in the area cater to the needs of the more well-to-do. Both Heritage Haven and Park Village continue to have long waiting lists of retirees who are unable to afford most other options.

I'm thinking Jesus, who lived in the most humble of circumstances, might actually prefer places like that to lay his head.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Giving Up Indifference For Lent

While we enjoy all the comforts of spacious homes, millions
of new refugees are in danger of perishing in the cold.

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion--how can God's love be in that person?
- I John 3:17 (NLT)

     I've always found it hard to read the above text, and found it equally difficult to read the following excerpt in a recent TIME article about Syria:

     “To avoid getting caught in the crossfire, nearly 900,000 people have left their homes since December, most of them heading north toward the Turkish border through the snow in sub-zero temperatures. The vast majority of the displaced residents are women and children, who, if they’re fortunate, find space in makeshift displacement camps with tents that are stretched beyond capacity without basic services. But Turkey has closed off its 550-mile border, leaving thousands to live in the open among the icy hillsides or unfinished buildings, the UN says. Mothers are burning garbage to keep children warm. Babies and small children are freezing to death.”

     All of us who profess to be pro-life need to demonstrate a willingness to make major lifestyle changes to help our fellow human beings in situations like these. Pretending to be helpless in the face of a crisis this overwhelming cannot serve as an acceptable excuse. 

For example:
1) We can and must give extravagantly and joyfully to relief organizations like Mennonite Central Committee and other groups offering aid to refugees.
2) We can drastically reduce our overconsumption for our own comfort and convenience and reinvest in causes that help alleviate suffering around the world.
3) We can help reduce the demand for fossil fuels that contribute to pollution and climate change that increase the likelihood of record breaking droughts, floods and other unnatural disasters.
4) We can urge our nation to stop adding billions to a "defense budget" capable of killing ever more people while people are dying from lack of food and shelter.

     What better time than Lent to engage in practices that promote life and well being for all.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

In Technology We Trust?

I've just completed 33 Monday-Friday radiation treatments at our local hospital following having a malignant tumor removed from my parotid gland in November.

Other than the inconvenience involved, and having to rack up a total of some 400 miles of travel back and forth over the six and a half week period, I can't say it was a terrible experience. There were some anticipated side effects, like dry mouth, some "sun burn" on the left side of my face, and an almost complete loss of appetite for the past several weeks, but this unpleasantness should all go away over the next several months.

But I do shudder to think what all of this will cost Medicare and my Everence health insurance, given the fact that the gigantic Varian Trilogy Truebeam linear accelerator used for a this cost the hospital a cool $4 million, according to one of my radiation techs. Speaking of, two of these fine people capably administered these treatments every day, and once a week I also saw the nurse assigned to my case, my MD oncologist and a nutritionist.

Overall, I see myself as truly blessed by being born at a time and in a place where this level of help is possible, all to assure that all of the cancer in my body is gone.

Of course, it could crop up somewhere else at any time, but meanwhile I am profoundly grateful to God, my loving family and friends, and the wonderful professionals at RMH/Sentara for all the good help and care I've received.

Monday, February 17, 2020

A Manifesto For A Moral Housing Movement

"Woe to you who think you live on easy street in Zion,
who think Mount Samaria is the good life.
You assume you’re at the top of the heap,
voted the number-one best place to live."
- the prophet Amos

(Amos 8:1, the Message)

Four Moral Housing Principles

No one should be homeless.

Large homes should be occupied by large households.

Smaller homes should be occupied by smaller households.

Empty Nesters should consider downsizing or taking in extra occupants.

There's a lot of talk about a shortage of affordable housing these days, but is there an actual lack of living space or simply a lack of equitable access to it?

As I travel around Harrisonburg, I see homeless people almost every day, as well as expansive mega-homes with multiple bedrooms and baths that are often inhabited by only one or two people.

What's wrong with that picture?

Meanwhile there are many modest homes, apartments, townhouses and duplexes in the neighborhood that provide adequate housing to individuals and small families, along with many mobile homes and other older dwellings in various states of repair. At the same time, the Harrisonburg Housing Authority has hundreds of people on their waiting list for subsidized housing, and those on low incomes are finding it ever more difficult to find a house or apartment they can afford.

According to a local United Way funded ALICE* Report, a family of two adults and and two children in our area needs a combined income of $66,180 in order to afford housing and other living costs. But based on information available from there are very few 3-bedroom homes available for rent for under $1000 a month, and an equally few homes that can be purchased for under $200,000.

Here are some things we empty nesters and others with more space (and more stuff) than we need, might do to help:

1. Put our home on the market and purchase or rent a smaller place, including the option of some seniors moving into an independent living facility at a retirement community. This would make more homes and more bedrooms available to growing families and encourage us all to downsize and get rid of some of our surplus in a way that would make things a lot easier on our children and others when we pass on.

2. Take in international or exchange students or offer hospitality to other individuals who need a bedroom on a short term or long term basis.

3. Make our home available to an organization like Oxford House or some other kind of group home for  persons in recovery or with special needs--or turn it into a homeless shelter! I know there are zoning issues that could get in the way, but our community should be able to work together to make reasonable accommodations for more moral housing.

4. Join with others in the community in a campaign to help make existing housing more energy efficient, thus reducing housing costs and helping save the planet.

Harrisonburg is known as the "Friendly City." I hope that means being hospitable to the the least of these and not just to the most of these.

*Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed

Thursday, February 13, 2020

HARD TIME VIRGINIA, Vol. 5, No. 2 (an occasional newsletter by and for Virginia prisoners)

Parole Grant Numbers Continue To Disappoint
According to the Virginia Parole Board website, only two regular grants were approved in December, neither of them geriatric cases. The Parole Board allows some parole violators to be continued on parole or discharged each month, but granted actual release to only 137 old law prisoners and 21 geriatric prisoners in 2019. This leaves 1,854 offenders in the system who remain parole eligible, and means the percentage of first term parole releases is under 8% for the year 2019.
     Virginia boasts of having one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country, less than 22%, which should mean that the risk of released persons reoffending is lower than in most states. This is especially true for aging persons and for old law prisoners who have demonstrated good behavior within the DOC for the 25 plus years they have been incarcerated since parole was abolished in 1995.

Healthcare Costs Are Rising With Aging Prison Population 
A November 30, 2019, Richmond Times-Dispatch article by reporter Richard Green, notes that medical care for Virginia's 30,000 inmates now accounts for one-fifth of all operating expenses for state prisons. According to figures provided by the staff of the Virginia House Appropriations Committee, the cost of inmate health care grew from roughly $140 million annually to more than $230 million in the decade ending June 30 of last year.
     Fourteen percent of state prisoners are at least 55 years old, up from 8.5% in 2012, the report found. A report last year by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission reported the number of inmates age 50 or older increased by nearly 40% from 2010 to 2016, and there was no indication that the growth rate was slowing.
     From another source: Thirty-one percent of Deerfield Correctional Center's prisoners are 60 years old or older. Due to increased medical needs, the cost for their keep is at $44,891 per inmate each year compared with $31,610 for the rest of the prison system.
     Note from someone in the system: “Even with the $230 million spent for treatment annually, prisoners are still not receiving adequate healthcare. It takes over a year for an inmate to receive a pair of prescription glasses or a set of dentures. This is not adequate healthcare”

Secretary Brian Moran To Speak At Gemeinschaft Home’s 35th Anniversary Event
Brian Moran, Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety, will be the honored guest and keynote speaker at a major anniversary and fundraising event sponsored by Gemeinschaft Home of Harrisonburg, Virginia, Friday evening June 19. 
     Gemeinschaft is a 90-day residential therapeutic community that houses from 40-50 men who are transitioning from prison and preparing to be productive citizens in their community.  
Moran is a logical choice for giving the keynote address here, based on his job description, described in Virginia code § 2.2-221.1. as follows:
     The Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security shall establish an integrated system for coordinating the planning and provision of offender transitional and reentry services among and between state, local, and nonprofit agencies in order to prepare inmates for successful transition into their communities upon release from incarceration and for improving opportunities for treatment, employment, and housing while on subsequent probation, parole, or post-release supervision.

DOC Sued Over Its Unhealthy Food Budget
Reporter Ned Oliver, in a piece in the January 22, 2020, Virginia Mercury. describes a briefing by the Virginia Department of Corrections in which Sen. Adam Ebbin, Democrat from Alexandria, asked what the department spent feeding the men and women under its care.  The answer was $2.10 per day. 
     One Virginia inmate has sued the Department, alleging a diet high in processed meats and grains put him at high risk for obesity, cancer and other chronic conditions. The DOC continues to insist that its that their food is adequate and healthy, according to radio station WVTF, which covered the suit.

Good News About People Behind Bars Doing Good 
In an effort to show that prisoners want to make a positive difference, the Pre-Reentry, Veterans, and S.O.A.R. communities of Augusta Correctional Center have been organizing charity drives for non-profits. In January they sent $200 to "Big Brothers and Big Sisters" of Richmond for National Mentor Month. 
     For Victim Impact Week in April, they have organized a drive to donate to the "Virginia Victims Assistance Network." They have also created their own "Victim Impact Tree" where residents place the names of victims on leaves and then paste them on the tree in their honor. These men understand that they can never take back what they've done, but can find some peace in helping others and becoming instruments of positive change.
     This is all a part of ACC's "Investing in Community Action Networking" (I.C.A.N.) which is one of the workshops that is offered in the Re-entry Community. Their message to residents is that "we must become the change that we seek," believing that when they do this they help bring about social transformation. They want those on the outside to know that they are not just about talk, but are about actions that speak much louder than words.

On The Outside
An excerpt from Veer Magazine, August 20, 2019: "The unfortunate reality of probation for many is an extremely difficult set of rules and regulations that often result in violations or more commonly technical violations. A technical violation of probation is any action considered as misbehavior by a person under supervision that is not by itself a criminal offense and generally does not result in arrest. Failing to report for a scheduled office visit, missing a curfew, lack of employment or attendance at school, testing positive for drug or alcohol use, or contacting a victim or co-defendant are examples of actions that can be considered violations. The fact is that persons on probation and parole in Virginia are more likely to be incarcerated due to technical violations than for committing a new crime thus continuing a system of criminalization as opposed to reform."

What The People Want
ACLU of Virginia released results from a survey of registered voters taken late last year. Three quarters said they favored criminal justice reform. 62% said too many people were going to prison, costing taxpayers too much money, and 75% said it was time to reinstate parole for non-violent offenders.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

From "I Cannot Tell A Lie" To "It Was A Perfect Call"--Truth Decay In The U.S. Presidency

This legend about Washington supported an established 
truth about him as the first president.
"Thou shalt not bear false witness."
- The Bible

The legend of George Washington saying "I cannot tell a lie" (in response to his allegedly cutting down his father's cheery tree) was widely circulated because it accurately represented our first president's character.

Later Abraham Lincoln earned the title of "Honest Abe," and was reputed to have once walked six miles to return three pennies he owed a customer. This is also likely a legend, but one consistent with the first Republican president's character.

In contrast, Richard Nixon is remembered for declaring "I am not a crook," even though his actions mostly proved otherwise.

President Bill Clinton betrayed the nation's trust by insisting, "I did not have sex with that woman" and for lying about his misdeeds under oath. He later apologized for his behavior.

President Barak Obama famously promised, "You will be able to keep your doctor" when describing his wished for healthcare plan. This turned out to be false.

Then there's our current president, who refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing, and who insists his highly dubious dealings with Ukraine were "perfect." He may be remembered for having told over 15,000 documented untruths in his first three years in office.

Is there a disastrous and dangerous trend here?

Yes, not only in how untruthful our national leaders have become, but in how much dishonesty even people of faith have come to accept as a new normal.

And how quick many are to dismiss all evidence of this kind of dishonesty as being "fake news."

Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Mennonites Enamored By A Powerful Ruler

Mennonites in Russia profusely blessed Alexander II at his
1856 coronation (note 1 below).
Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, a member of the faculty of the Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto, gave me permission to post the following translation of a congratulatory letter to Alexander II at his coronation in 1856. 

     It is from the entire 'Mennonite Brotherhood' in Russia, with the exception of the Kleine Gemeinde group, and was signed by 9 church elders and two district chairmen (note 2). They are ancestors of Kansas, Minnesota, Dakota and Nebraska Mennonites. 

Most serene and supremely powerful Emperor! Most Gracious Emperor and Lord!

May your Imperial Majesty, Most Gracious One be willing to accept our heartfelt congratulations and thankful feelings, which we are so bold to lay down before the feet of the Most High's illustrious throne in all humility, All Gracious One.

In the happy knowledge that we, the whole Mennonite Brotherhood in southern Russia, with sincere hearts and filled with thanksgiving, are true subjects of your Imperial Majesty, we gladly follow with all our soul the inner drive of the heart, to express reverently and in childlike manner before our Imperial Majesty, that we owe our thanks for this noble peace [Crimean War had just ended], next to God's all-wise guidance, to the most gracious and fatherly sentiments of your Imperial Majesty, through whose blessings we feel constantly committed, and especially for the upcoming coronation, to prayer with all inwardness, that God the Lord would bestow the richest fullness of His blessings and gifts upon your Imperial Majesty as well as upon our whole, passionately beloved Imperial House, so that the reign of your Imperial Majesty may be long and blessed.

Mindful of the privileges most graciously bestowed upon our Mennonite Brotherhood by the revered Emperor and Lord Paul in a Most High Decree of Grace (Privilegium) on the 6th of September, 1800, we will gratefully continue to show ourselves more and more worthy, and strive with all of the strength and means at our disposal, to secure the benevolence of the Most Gracious One (Emperor) toward us in the future as well, that we and our children may live a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and respectability under the most gracious protection of your Imperial Majesty, as we have been so blessed to this day under your Imperial Majesty and His majestic, most-blessed ancestors.

May the Lord our God fulfill in the richest measure our childlike prayers and wishes for a long, happy and blessed life and rule of your Imperial Majesty and direct the heart of your Imperial Majesty according to His divine [God's] good pleasure.

We are unspeakably happy to be in deepest reverence your Imperial Majesty's most humble and most faithful subjects, the Mennonite Brotherhood in southern Russia, in the name and on behalf of the churches and district of Chortitza, Mariupol [Bergthal] and Molotschna. 


Here is some commentary on the above by Neufeldt-Fast:

Without being too judgmental; knowing that their era is not ours; believing that they were not "just" saying this to get on the good side of the new Tsar; convinced that they were sincere in their praise but not naive about the need to protect their charter of privileges; certain that nine elders are not ignorant about their Anabaptist heritage; knowing that this Mennonite praise for the Romanov dynasty predates 1856 and continues decades later ... I think it's ok to test out the term "Imperial Anabaptists." (as opposed to democratic Anabaptists)

At one level, the letter is a restatement of the contract: We Mennonites will continue to "show ourselves even more worthy" of the generous charter of privileges, that is, to be a model community, and we will strive toward that end "with all of the strength and means at our disposal." And in return, we expect the Tsar to be benevolent toward us, so that "we and our children may live a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and respectability" under the Tsar's protection.

At one level, it is wholly compatible with the recently republished 1660 confession (United Frisian/Flemish/German; now "Rudnerweide 1853"): "Article XI: Concerning Secular Authority" and I Tim. 1:2f (link:,_or_Short_and_Simple_Statement_of_Faith_(Rudnerweide,_Russia,_1853)#XI._Concerning_Secular_Authority).

But ... can an Anabaptist-Mennonite really be a Monarchist?

Their question was the exact opposite: Can a Mennonite/Christian ever be a Democrat?!

To Russian Mennonites (and not just them), the democratic revolutions across Europe appeared as chaotic eruptions that aimed to replace divinely ordained rulers with human institutions established on the “grace of the people” alone, not of God.

When this Tsar, Alexander II, was assassinated in 1881, Russian Mennonites tell their recently resettled siblings now in America of their deepest grief at this “irreplaceable loss” at the hands of “democrats" (note 3).

Even the very popular evangelist and poet-minister Bernhard Harder wrote a poem / hymn mentioning these "democratic assassins." 

What was at stake? Harder and at least two if not three generations of Russian Mennonites were convinced that the Russian monarch was a divinely ordained bulwark against the “pestilence” and “vain and sinister schemes of democrats” and “servants of Satan”: “God lives! And no assassin can arrest his truth” (note 4).

Years later after the 1905 Russian Revolution, P. M. Friesen writes about the Mennonites: "as a genuine Christian-conservative and generally bourgeois group, ninety-nine out of one hundred Mennonites considered such words as 'democrat,' 'democratic' with suspicion, foreboding ill, and from a democracy only evil was expected" (note 5). He was ignoring the social unrest in large Mennonite factories and huge class distinctions growing larger every decade among Mennonites in Russia.

Is there anything to learn here for contemporary American politics? What are the hopes and fears? 
Are they defined in an apocalyptic manner with a “pessimistic” view of human nature, and advocating for patterns and institutions to hold the chaos in check until the apocalyptic end? Or are hopes dreams of the millennium  articulated with “optimism” about human potential, seeking a movement forward to an improved fulfillment of history?

Some things have changed -- but maybe much has remained the same too.

--Best wishes from Canada. "God Save the Queen!"

Note 1: Coronation Album, from Brown University Library.
Note 2: Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College, N. Newton, KS.
Note 3: Cf. letters from the villages of Fabrikerweise (Mennonitische Rundschau I, no. 23 [May 1, 1881] 1), Schönau and Halbstadt (MR I, no. 22 [April 15, 1881] 1), and Grossweide (MR II, no. 1 [June 1, 1881] 1).
Note 4: Geistliche Lieder und Gelegenheitsgedichte von Bernhard Harder, edited by Heinrich Franz ( Hamburg: A-G, 1888) vol. 1, no. 519, 566; no. 533, 583f. Re: democratic assassins, see no. 521, p.  568f.
Note 5: Peter M. Friesen, Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia 1789–1910 (Winnipeg, MB: Christian, 1978) 627;

Friday, February 7, 2020

Local Population Grows, Marriage Numbers Lag

There's sure to be a lot of incredible sadness each year among
partners and family members affected by our divorce numbers.

I’ve been recording marriage and divorce numbers for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County since 1996. In spite of an estimated local population increase of over 25% in the past two decades we have had no significant increase in the number of marriage licenses issued. For example, we had exactly the same number of marriages in 2000 as we did last year.

This doesn’t mean we have fewer people in intimate and exclusive relationships, however, but fewer people are choosing to legally document them. Couples often feel it will be easier for them to break up if they aren't officially married but when these unregistered couples do break up, as is frequently do, they likely experience the same distresses divorced partners go through, or worse. 

Unfortunately, they just aren't included in the marriage and divorce numbers below:

Year        Marriages     Divorces

1996           873                 387
1997           950                 405
1998           964                 396
1999           932                 405
2000           947                 365
2001          1003                438     (most annual marriages)
2002           976                 421
2003           961                 399
2004           959                 437
2005           889                 381
2006           929                 389
2007           925                 434
2008           950                 405
2009           903                 347     (fewest annual divorces)
2010           879                 358     (fewest annual marriages since 1996)
2011           933                 433
2012           995                 445
2013           924                 484    
2014           972                 427
2015           955                 474
2016           985                 612     (most annual divorces)
2017           983                 426
2018           935                 476
2019           947                 487

Clarification 1: Marriage numbers are based on the number of marriage licenses issued, and include those who come here from other localities to marry, whereas divorce numbers include only the breakups of people who live in the City or County. However, it is logical to assume that a roughly equal number of residents from here marry in other jurisdictions as marry here from other communities, so the numbers above should be reasonably valid for comparison purposes.

Clarification 2: One cannot assume a rate of divorce based on any one year's numbers, as in "45% of first time marriages in our community will end in divorce." (Many of the above couples are marrying or divorcing for a second, third or fourth time). But with numbers like these over a period of many years, one might safely conclude that the odds of a given marriage surviving are not nearly as good as we would like.

Meanwhile, not surprisingly, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, married adults are more satisfied with their relationship and more trusting of their partners than those who are cohabiting. Here are some of their findings: