Sunday, December 3, 2023

Are We More Polytheistic Than We Realize?

The Greek deity Hermes, among other things, was revered
as the god of games and athletes.
The sin most often condemned in the Bible is idolatry, worshipping deities other than the one we claim as our one and only God.
Worshipping takes many forms, of course, but the word comes from worth-ship, attributing great worth to some object, activity or being. 

This means we can measure the extent of our devotion to inferior and false deities by noting the actual time, attention, and money we invest in popular ones like Mammon, god of wealth and possessions, Mars, god of war and domination, Hermes, god of games and athletics, Eros, god of sensual desire and pleasure, or Bacchus, god of festivity and inebriation.

But before we tally the time and attention offered to these, let's start with calculating our investments in the cause of our faith. In other words, how much time, attention and money do we spend in doing what Jesus calls his followers to do? Exactly how much time do we set aside to engage with fellow believers in encouraging and equipping each other to carry out Jesus's mission of "bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming good news to the captives, the recovery of sight to those who are blind (physically and figuratively) and on liberating the oppressed?" Let's be honest, and not simply note the time we spend as part of Sunday morning audiences taking in well prepared rituals of worship in the state-of-the-art real estate we typically refer to as "church."

Now compare the above to the time, attention and creativity we invest in Mammon, as just one example, in our pursuit of money and possessions far in excess of our fair share of daily bread and other necessities? 

Then let's do a fearless inventory of our investments in any other addictions we have in the area of competitive sports, fine dining, exotic vacations, expensive hobbies and entertainments, or in the promotion of our favorite political or other endeavors. Which has me acknowledging that I am probably much more polytheistic than I realize.

Amy Julia Becker, in an 11/21/23 article in the Christian Century about their family's attendance at a Taylor Swift concert, writes, "As soon as we arrived at the show, Peter and I were both struck by the sense of being in a house of worship. The rituals, the chants, the ecstatic moments, the shared experience, even the reciprocal relationships established through friendship bracelets—it all underscored a sense of awe and transcendence alongside intimacy."

Her article isn't necessarily disparaging of the concert, noting that "People are notably kind to one another at a Taylor Swift show. At Gillette Stadium, even the security guards were smiling widely and dancing in the aisles. Because our oldest daughter has Down syndrome, we were able to stand throughout the show in a section specifically set aside for people with disabilities. It felt holy to stand among other disabled people, watching sign language interpreters and dancing alongside a woman in a wheelchair. The title of Jessica Winter’s recent piece for The New Yorker sums it up well: 'Bearing Witness with My Daughter at the Church of Taylor Swift.'"

I'm not a great fan of Swift, and remain deeply concerned about the worth-ship associated with our devotion to celebrities in our culture. But sometimes we can learn from other religions, take seriously how we as member of the God-movement need to deepen our commitment and strengthen our allegiance to the life saving and life giving God of Jesus and the prophets.

As Becker notes in the conclusion of her article,  "Maybe Swift is just one more step on a road away from sanctuaries of grace. Or maybe she is a sign that points to our need for them." 

Monday, November 27, 2023

VMRC Celebration of Lights


A wall of names of those being honored
and remembered is on display along
VMRC's indoor Main Street.

This is a somber candlelight celebration in memory of loved ones who have passed on, and an opportunity to contribute to Virginia Retirement Community's Good Samaritan Fund. This fund helps provide ongoing care for residents who have depleted their resources for their end of life care.
     The public is invited to attend and to contribute in someone's memory, in the spirit of the Bible's fifth commandment: 
     “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."    

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Guest Post: An Open Letter To DOC Director Chadwick Dotson

Chadwick Dotson, a respected judge who was appointed
by Governor Youngkin as chair of the Parole Board, has
recently been named director of the Virginia Department
of Corrections to replace former head Harold Clarke.
October 23, 2023

Dear Director Dotson,

I write to highlight the systematic chaos within the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC), such as having an escapee from Greensville, increased overdose deaths in multiple institutions, and most recently the massive amounts of contraband seized from a Sussex State Prison employee.

I've been a ward of the VA DOC for the past 14 years and have experienced unspeakable acts due to the negligence and actions of department staff. Examples range from indifferent medical care surrounding my battle with sickle cell anemia to my being severely assaulted by a staff member at Wallens Ridge State Prison.

We have a grievance system that is abused by the staff, plus there is the illegal contraband problem, with inmates having access, depending on the institution, to illegal drugs, cell phones; and even black market Narcan to reverse the effects of overdoses without the intervention of DOC staff.

Unfortunately for many years this department has manufactured the narrative that all the drugs and illegal contraband introduced into Virginia institutions come through the visitation room. I will concede that there have been instances over the years of visitors being apprehended with illegal contraband, but in the same breath I will say when you compare such instances to the volume of visitors this department has it's a miniscule percentage.

I can attest to the fact that in my 14 years as a ward of the DOC the overwhelming majority of drugs and illegal contraband have been brought in by staff, yet in recent years little to nothing has been done to mitigate this growing problem. While some institutions have implemented body scanners for staff and visitors, but they are circumvented by staff on a regular basis.

Since the onset of the pandemic three years ago visits were suspended for two of those years, during which time drugs and overdoses exploded. For the majority of those two years visitation was completely suspended while I was housed at Sussex 1 State Prison. With drugs still pouring in you would think there would have been more monitoring and drug screening. Unfortunately I can unequivocally attest that during this period drug testing was purposely not being performed at a rate comparable to the time prior to the suspension of visitation. This is a fact I'm sure the Sussex staff will deny but I know what I and others have observed, and I'm sure this can be authenticated by reviewing statistics of drug screenings prior to and after the suspension of visitation. 

Sadly when an officer is suspected of trafficking contraband they are often allowed to quietly resign rather than being prosecuted when caught. Meanwhile we must refute the narrative of family members being the sole traffickers. Since visits were reinstated following the pandemic, the new scheduling system has become more confusing and complicated, resulting in visitation volume being at an all time low. 

In closing, I have four years left to serve on my sentence. I can only hope your being appointed as Director will bring positive change to this department. It's rumored you want to implement sweeping changes to visitation policy. I pray this will be done in a constructive and non punitive way. At this point the rumored changes will only cause the kind of backlash that will make institutions less safe for inmates and staff. And I hope you will take a harder stance regarding staff who are the main culprits in many of the problems this department faces. Due to low hiring standards this department is currently even employing gang members and Neo-Nazi's, particularly in some of the western prisons where there seems to be less oversight. In due time and with a little investigation you will see find these claims to be true. 

I thank you for the time it has taken you to read this correspondence, and look forward to your corrective actions.


Chey M. Barrington
Lunenberg Correctional Center

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Our Young Are Being Sacrificed To Molech

Moloch sacrifices were performed at Jerusalem's
Valley of Hinnom according to 2 Kings 23:10.

Historians disagree on details, but it is generally believed that the sacrifice of babies and children was a key feature of the worship of the ancient Canaanite god Molech. 

While we may consider the idea of human sacrifice appalling, it has existed in many ancient (and current?) cultures. After all, what could be more effective in appeasing the gods and gaining divine favor than worshippers offering their most loved and precious gifts, their very own flesh and blood?

Regrettably, idolatry is not dead, and extreme devotion to such gods as the following is very much alive and well: Mammon (money and possessions), Aphrodite (love, sex and beauty), Dionysus (wine and pleasure) and Mars, or Ares (war and battles). And reverence for each of them is known to result in human sacrifice, even today:


• Abortions in the U.S., while in significant decline, are estimated to exceed 600,000 a year. No one knows how many amazing human-lives-in-formation are sacrificed as a means of birth control rather than for reasons of rape, incest or to protect the health and life of the mother. See

• The U.S. firearm death rate for children to age 17 is far higher than in any comparable nation in the world, and is now the leading cause of deaths in that age group, surpassing for the first time those due to auto accidents and cancer. Over 2,500 children are sacrificed each year due to our devotion to guns. See

• Individuals are increasingly willing to sacrifice their very lives in pursuit of ecstatic pleasures offered by addictive drugs, alcohol and unprotected sex.

• Civilians of all ages are sacrificed in horrific wars waged in the name of "national defense," including an untold number of babies and innocent children who are indiscriminately bombed, dismembered, incinerated and buried under the rubble of their homes, schools and hospitals, all in a growing devotion to, and trust in, the bloodthirsty gods of war.

• Young men and increasing numbers of young women in their prime are promised glory and fame for heroically sacrificing life and limb for their country, typically at the behest of national leaders who want their enemies destroyed while themselves remaining out of harms way. 

The idolatrous sacrifice of human life will end only when we attribute greater value to preserving the lives of human beings than we do to the lines of human boundaries.

Premature babies in Gaza are considered worth sacrificing if necessary in order to retaliate against, and destroy, a nation's enemies.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Teens Share Positive Feelings About Old People

I still have difficulty thinking of myself as old, but we've been a part of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community's Park Village since the fall of 2011. VMRC began as an "old people's home," and all of us residents are "senior citizens." We are privileged to live in this unit sandwiched between wonderful next door neighbors who, like all members of the human race, are getting older every day.

Thanks to a teacher friend at Eastern Mennonite School, I recently got some interesting feedback from a younger generation about how they view 80-year-olds like myself. At my request she had 45 teens in her classes write responses to the following:

1. What four words come to your mind when you think of someone in their 80's? 

The word that came up most often (32 times) was simply old, a largely neutral term, but the next three words were positive: wise  (17), grandparents (12) and retired 9. Slow (5) was next, followed by experienced (4), kind (2), loving (2), free (2), and sweet (2). There were numerous other positive words cited, like caring, nice, peaceful, story teller, and stable. Single mentions of negative terms included fragile, cranky, frail, grumpy, wrinkly, gray, fat, and worried.

Overall, I found the results more positive than expected. 

2. When would you likely no longer look forward to having another year added to your numerical age?

The youngest age chosen was 16, with a reference to his or her finally being able to drive. The next was age 21, followed by 25, 29, 30 (4 respondents), 40 (6), 49,  50 (6)  60 (3), 70 (3), 75, 80 (2), 85 (3) 90,  100 (4) 101, Never (3). 

I was impressed by the number of teens saying they would keep looking forward to each next birthday with anticipation rather than with dread. 

3. What four words come to your mind when you think of someone in their 20's? 

I was really interested in seeing how their feelings about 20-year-olds compared with their perceptions of those in their 80's, and whether the words chosen for my age group would be mostly positive or negative. 

The words youthful or young came up most often (25 times), followed by college (13,) adult or young adult (10),  parties (6), adventuresome (4), learning (4), energetic (4), broke or poor (4), free (3), busy (3), and cool (2) and there were single mentions of  responsible,  beginning, love, discovery, strong, energetic, passionate, happy, along with negative terms like inexperienced, dumb, stupid, naive, alcohol, confused, immature, crazy and irresponsible. 

This was by no means a scientifically done research, but I was pleased by how mature and how positive the results were, given the common perception that teens have mostly negative attitudes toward old people.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Can We Get Rid Of Evil Doers By Evil Means?

Note the headline in the September 17, 2001, issue of the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record I found stored in our basement recently.

AP September 2001: “Bush: Rid World Of Evil Doers” was the bold headline that appeared in the Daily News-Record just days after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. 

Here is the opening sentence of the article:
WASHINGTON--Vowing not to be cowed, President Bush pledged a crusade against terrorists Sunday as top administration officials zeroed in on Saudi Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban militia for possible retribution for last week's terrorist attacks.
Two other front page headlines in the same 9/17/2001 issue were “Military Action Supported” and “Pakistan: Give Up Suspect—Nation Warning Afghanistan to Produce Bin Laden.”
On page 13 another article in that issue reported that "Israeli tanks rolled into the West Bank towns of Jenin and Jericho yesterday, shelling buildings and leaving four Palestinians dead." Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is cited as saying "If absolute quiet lasts 48 continuous hours, our foreign minister will meet with  Arafat in order to advance the ceasefire." To which the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat replied, "We are ready for political dialogue any time, any place," but insisted the violence was caused by Israel's incursion into Palestinian territory. 
Years later, these familiar arguments on both sides have repeatedly stalled negotiations and have eventually led to the kind of dangerous escalation we see in the Middle East today.
So how well have retaliatory strikes on the part of great nations like Israel and the U.S. actually worked out?
The U.S spent over $2 trillion of mostly borrowed money in an Afghan war and occupation spanning nearly 20 years, the longest war in the nation's history. Nearly 50,000 Afghan civilians lost their lives, with an unknown number suffering debilitating injuries. Over 5000 U.S. service members, contractors and aid workers were killed, along with over 1000 NATO troops and some 44,000 Afghans who joined the fight. The Taliban lost over 51,000 fighters but was never defeated, and the U.S. finally withdrew from Afghanistan in disgrace, reminiscent of the nation’s equally chaotic and humiliating pullout from Vietnam in 1973. 
One wonders what would have happened if after the 911 attack, when the U.S. experienced an outpouring of sympathy and support from virtually all nations around the world (including Muslim ones), we would have responded differently? Or what if Israel would have avoided disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on the two million citizens of Gaza after the brutal October 7 terrorist attacks? Many of them are refugees and over half of them are innocent children, all packed together in an area a fraction of the size of Rockingham County, 
While there are no easy answers, one thing seems clear. Using violent and evil means to rid the world of violence and evil—and evildoers—appears to have only perpetuated more evil, and has proven to be not only a costly failure, but has created fanatical martyrs and contributed to the rise of Isis, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups.
In the 19th century Red Cloud was among the native chiefs who chose to resist the westward expansion of the U.S. (justified by the church’s “Doctrine of Discovery”) using every means possible to preserve the land and way of life of native peoples. Under his leadership tribal warriors resorted to mercilessly scalping and butchering white occupiers, men, women and children, in horrific ways, and US forces retaliated in an equal and ultimately overwhelming way.
All people, especially the children of godly nomads like Abraham and Sarah, should know that lasting peace can be achieved only through creating more justice and equity in the world, though eliminating extreme poverty and through having legitimate human needs met for adequate land, food, shelter and healthcare for all.
In the words of an ancient Hebrew prophet, 
“I hate, I despise your feasts,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…
But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." 

Amos 5:21-24 (ESV)

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Meditation At The Burial Of A Beloved Sister, 87

Magdalena "Maggie" Yoder Schrock 1936-2023 was laid
to rest today at the Oak Hill Mennonite Church cemetery
near Cumberland, Virginia. 

I shared this meditation today at the graveside of my very special sister and lifelong best friend:

This is such an emotional moment for me, but as someone has said, to be able to really cry we need someone to cry with. All of you gathered here today are people I need to cry with, to mourn the loss and to celebrate the life of our dear sister Maggie.

   It seems like only yesterday that we met here at this beautiful little Eden here at the Oak Hill Church to bury Maggie’s beloved Alvin. Now today we lay to rest our precious Maggie beside her husband of 67 years, in a space shaded by trees, a place so inviting to some of Maggie’s favorite things—birds and wildflowers, bees and butterflies, green grass and beautiful fall leaves. She loved nature and gardening, and loved people, loved her family and friends and neighbors far and wide, and above all she loved God. 

   I’ve been so blessed by growing up in the warm circle of her kind and sweet spirit, been blessed by having a next older sister who looked after me, cared for me, loved me, worked and played with me, took time to talk with me, sang with me, encouraged me, and over the years sent us so many wonderful letters and cards, all expressions of her heartfelt faith and hope and love.

   For our wedding she gave us a beautiful oil painting of this nature scene she created as a special gift for Alma Jean and me nearly 60 years ago. We’ll miss her talents and her many gifts freely shared with family, friends and neighbors and with the students she taught and loved here at the Oak Hill School.      

   Since we're just 3 years apart in age Maggie and I shared many first things together, our first  train trip to Virginia when our family moved to the Shenandoah Valley from Kansas, our first school bus ride to the Stuarts Draft Elementary school with 400 some students, so scary compared to the one room school we attended together in Kansas. Childhood and youth were full of first things.

   Now we are experiencing last things, last children leaving home, last full time work, last years of robust health and energy. Maggie has been just ahead of me in losing her good hearing, her 20-20 eyesight and her good heart health, and now we are here for a last farewell, Maggie having drawn her last breath. The days and years between first things and last things have gone by “swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,” as Job once lamented. 

   Over the past months as we and all of her beloved children and grandchildren became ever more aware of Maggie’s failing health, including her failing heart that finally just gave out. So we were becoming prepared  to see her go, but I for one still haven’t been ready to see her gone, my last remaining sibling, even though we know she’s with God and all is good.       Maggie has gone ahead of us but she‘ll always be with us, will live on in us and through us in all the ways she has blessed, enriched and influenced our lives for good, and for God.

   By faith we also claim, as Maggie did, Job’s words of assurance, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after we awake, though our body has been destroyed, yet in our flesh we will see God.” 

   So may we share with Maggie the unwavering faith she demonstrated and passed on, that 

The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want,

He makes us lie down in green pastures, 

He leads us beside still waters,

He restores our souls,

He leads us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake,

Yea though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death

we will fear no evil, for you are with us

Your rod and staff protect and comfort us

You prepare a table for us in the presence of our enemies

You anoint our heads with healing oil

our cups are full to overflowing

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us 

all the days of our lives

And we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever and ever.