Sunday, June 13, 2021

Where The Deer (If Not The Antelope) Prey

Our garden is usually a therapeutic place "where seldom is heard a discouraging word." But one exception is when deer from a nearby woods come by for a late night buffet, something that happened again just two weeks ago.

Having had no success with deer repellents, I tried something different this year, a virtually invisible "fence." It's simply three strands of fishing line attached to steel posts at each corner of the garden.

I got the idea from a neighbor, a native West Virginian, who assured me it works for him. In my version I drove the four steel posts into the ground at an angle, as you can see on the photo, and attached small strips of tinfoil to the lines so no one would accidentally walk into them. I cut the strips from aluminum pie pans and attached them to the line, giving each a little twist to keep them in place (the upright posts you see inside the garden are for the tomato plants).

This experimental barrier has actually worked for two weeks now. I still find some occasional deer droppings in the area around the garden, but so far the deer seem to be spooked by the fishline. According to someone else I spoke to, having any fence at an angle or spaced apart also throws off their depth perception and discourages them from jumping over it, which they could easily do.

I was first concerned that the enclosure would make it hard to get in and out of the garden, but that's quite simple. Just bend over a bit, raise the middle fishline and carefully step over the lower one. Mission accomplished. And since we mulch everything each year with leaves, compost and/or grass clippings, we don't need to access it with our tiller once the soil is prepared for the season. And mowing the grass next to the garden shouldn't be a problem either.

I won't consider myself having found a foolproof solution just yet, as deer are really smart when it comes to overcoming barriers between them and finding food. Nor am I sure I fully understand why this low budget fence actually works.

But I'll keep you posted. We just saw two young deer checking out the neighborhood in broad daylight last evening, so we'll see.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Should We Use Male Pronouns For God--Or When Referring To Both Women and Men?

Here is the poster my daughter made to show the results of her seventh grade science fair project many years ago.

There's been a significant increase in the use of inclusive language when referring to people in general, as in choosing terms like " human" or "humankind" rather than "man" or "mankind." And many have come to avoid using male pronouns for God in order to avoid giving the impression that God is somehow a masculine being, and in light of both male and female humans being created in God's very image and likeness according to the Genesis account.

Norms for how we use and understand language are always changing, of course, which is why we no longer use terms like "thee," "thou" or "thy," but is our use of terms and choice of masculine, feminine or generic pronouns really that important? Doesn't everyone understand that referring to "brothers," "he" or "him" when addressing a group of people isn't at all meant to exclude or ignore women?

I'm not an authority on grammar, but I recently ran across an interesting science fair project my daughter did back when she was a seventh grader. She prepared two general descriptions of qualities of an effective teacher, identical except the one used the generic plural pronouns "they" and "them" throughout and the other used male pronouns like "he" or "him" in the same description. She then gave one group of seventh graders the first statement and another the second, and had each visualize this imaginary teacher, write a brief description of their own, and assign a name of the real or imaginary person who came to their mind.

The result was that all but one of the students in the first group chose a male name while in the second group 46% chose male names and 54% female ones.

Even though she didn't win a prize for her exhibit, I was impressed. But I'll let you each draw your own conclusions about the results.

Friday, June 4, 2021

On Race, Have We Come A Long Way? (Or Not?)

When our house was built, only white people would have been
permitted to own or rent it.
I recently found a copy of a deed of trust recorded 70 years ago on May 21, 1951, for the property on which our home was built.  A member of the faculty of a nearby college purchased three lots along Hamlet Drive from a respected member of its board of trustees, with the following stipulations, all typical of deeds of that era:

1. The said lots shall be used for residential purposes and for no other purpose. No trailer, tent, garage or other outbuildings shall be place or constructed upon said lots, and used as a residence.

2. That no chicken houses or hog pens shall be constructed on said lots.

3. That no residence shall be erected on said lots, or either of them, of less value at construction than Five Thousand Dollars ($5000.00). 

4. That no residence or other outbuildings shall be erected upon said lots, within fifty (50) feet of the western line of a thirty (30) foot street.

5. That said lots shall not be sold or leased to any person or persons other than the white race.

6. That in case of any violation, or attempted violation of any of the covenants herein contained, any owner or owner of other lots situated in said subdivision shall have the right to file a bill in equity against the person or person violating or attempting to violate any of the said covenants, to obtain a perpetual injunction against the same.

I can assure you that when we sell our house there will be no clause barring people of color, which would be illegal in any case, but has our community ever fully overcome its racist past? Hamlet Drive has remained virtually all white with the exception of a past tenant in our basement and a current couple from the Middle East in another nearby ground floor apartment.

So while I celebrate changes in housing and other laws in the past half century, I suspect that fundamental changes in our hearts and minds, and in our friendships and relationships, still need to be made.

What do you think?

Monday, May 31, 2021

Our Parents And Grandparents Were Green Before Green Was A Thing

An economy capable of producing far more than
 is needed is dependent on persuading consumers
to buy far more than they need.

It's heartening to see renewed interest in reusing, recycling and learning to do with less, all in an effort to avoid wasting limited resources and helping save the planet. But prior to the rise of the orgy of consumerism that has characterized the post World War II generation and those that followed, our ancestors did remarkably well in the conservation department. 


- People bought far fewer of the over-processed, over-packaged and over-priced foods and other goods offered at our supermarkets and malls, goods that are transported from all over the world and often harvested or produced by workers living on slave wages. Pre-WW II generations raised as much of their own food and even sewed as many of their own clothes as possible. 

- Milk, soda and other beverage bottles were routinely returned to the store for recycling, where they were sent back to the plants from which they came to be washed, sterilized and refilled, over and over again. And buying drinking water in disposable plastic bottles would have been unthinkable. 

- Brown paper grocery bags were reused for such things as garbage bags, shelf liners, wrapping paper or as covers for school textbooks. 

- People walked more, limited their shopping to a weekly trip to town, and didn't rely on multi-horsepower vehicles for frequent errands or shopping trips. 

- Cloth diapers were used instead of the disposable ones now seen as a necessity. Clothes were dried on a line, utilizing wind and solar energy instead of 220-volt driers. 

- By using highly efficient wringer washers, the same water was often used for more than one load, with the dirtiest work clothes always washed last. Rinse water was often reheated to wash some of the everyday clothes, and homemade laundry soap made as a byproduct of home butchering projects was often used for a detergent.

- Children wore hand-me-down clothes from their older siblings or cousins, and often wore the same outfits to school or elsewhere until they needed to be laundered.

- Most meals were prepared from scratch with home or locally grown produce, and were served at family tables without the distraction of television or cell phones replacing family interaction. 

- Lawns were small and kept trim by push mowers that helped provide lots of exercise without a need for expensive workout equipment. 

- Even writing pens were refilled with ink, ball point pens had replaceable ink cartridges, and razors had replaceable blades.

- Socks were darned and other clothes were patched and mended as long as possible.

- People adapted to warm weather without air conditioning, and in the absence of thermostat controlled central heating systems, kept themselves warm around their cooking stoves and Warm Morning heaters. On cold nights they simply added more blankets to keep themselves comfortable.

Needless to say, not everything about the good old days was all that great. But when it comes to reducing, reusing, or recycling, they did far more to help save the planet than the generations that have followed them. They thrived on reclaiming, refurbishing, restoring what they had, along with resisting buying so many of the things we have come to see as necessities.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Remembering A Dear Friend, A Great Neighbor

Carl J. Esch 1948-1981
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the passing of Carl Esch, one of the best friends and next door neighbors one could ever have. Carl  had been scheduled for surgery to repair a heart valve but died of a blood clot in the ICU at our local hospital at age 33, leaving his beloved wife Marilyn and three young children.

Unknown to most of us, Carl had felt led to go off his blood thinner and to simply trust fully in God's ability to heal him of his heart condition. Regrettably, it was not to be so, and I was privileged to be with him when he breathed his last, his heart still beating strongly to the very end while awaiting its ultimate healing in the care of the Great Physician.

Carl was devoted to his family and dedicated to our church, and we were privileged to have the Esch family as dear friends when we lived in the Zion Mennonite parsonage directly across the road from the church. While Carl provided for his family as a first rate auto mechanic, his life mission was one of being a full time servant of God and a wonderful father to his children.

I still mourn his loss as do all of his family and his many friends. And I still remember a group of us getting together with broken hearts to dig his grave in the Zion cemetery as a final way of showing our love for him and our profound sense of loss at his passing.

Here is a part of what I shared at his funeral service May 26, 1981:

Carl J. Esch, soldier of peace
At your death we salute you
You fought hard, against all odds
And you fought well, with the weapons of the Spirit
With the Word of God, precious and powerful in you

You waged a valiant and gentle war
To win, but never to destroy
To nurture you children, never to discourage them
To love your wife and family, never to lord it over them
To serve your church, never to neglect or leave it

Carl, warrior of faith
You taught us courage
You taught us to live life for all it's worth
You taught us to give God all we have
You taught us to live simply and to care deeply

And you were willing to risk more than most of us
While we stayed behind in safer places
You were on reconnaissance, testing the outer limits of faith

Carl, brother soldier, you were too young to die
How could any life be finished at 33
(Except in the service of Christ, who was able to say "It is finished" at that same age)

O brother, and dearer than a brother
May heaven reward you with its highest medals of honor
And may God grant us a deep well for our tears
Until we meet again

Monday, May 24, 2021

A Lifelong Healthcare Hero Is Laid To Rest


Phyllis Lee Cullers 12/9/48-5/10/21

I was privileged to be Phyllis Cullers' pastor for many of the years we were part of the Zion Mennonite Church near Broadway. Saturday I was blessed with the opportunity to speak at her memorial service at the Grandle Funeral Home, as follows:

We are here to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Phyllis Lee Cullers, beloved friend and sister, aunt, and a caring and loving part of the community of people whose lives she touched during her many years as a nurse and caregiver.

I was sad to hear of her sudden passing, so sorry it had to be the result of a cancer that took her life before her time. But as in the words of Ecclesiastes, there is a time to be born and a time to die, just as there is a time to grieve and also a time to celebrate the life work of someone like Phyllis. And then a time to rest, to say goodnight, to ‘lay her down to sleep’ after a tiring day, and to say, as Jesus did at the end of his life, “It is finished,” and to pray, “into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Among the Ten Commandments there is the one that says, “Six days shall you labor and do all your work, and on the seventh day you are to rest, commit everything to God’s hands and cease from your work.” The Hebrew word for sabbath, shabat, literally means rest. And we could paraphrase this and apply it to Phyllis’s life, as if God were saying, “Phyllis, six decades you shall rest and finish all your labor, and in the seventh decade you shall rest, with the simple prayer, Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

It was a blessing that Phyllis was able to die peacefully as in a quiet sleep, at rest after a good life’s work. She had finished what God gave her to do. And to paraphrase one of her favorite psalms, The Lord was her Shepherd, so she had no want, no lack of anything. He has taken her by the hand and led her into green, lush pastures and invited her to lie down beside still waters. And even though she walked through the valley of the shadow of death, she feared no evil, for the good Shepherd was with her, his rod and staff protected her. He anointed her head with healing oil, and prepared an abundant table for her. Surely goodness and mercy followed her all the days of her life, and she will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

That’s the confidence we have, that Phyllis is in good hands, in the welcoming arms of the Good Shepherd. She’s spent much of her life caring for others, now it’s time for her to be cared for by God, who is welcoming us all to come home with her, to join her in that great welcome home banquet, described by the prophet Isaiah this way,

On this mountain the LORD of Hosts
will prepare a banquet for all the peoples,
a feast of aged wine, of choice meat,
of finely aged wine.
On this mountain He will swallow up
the death shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
He will swallow up death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face
For the LORD has spoken.
And in that day it will be said, “Surely this is our God;
we have waited for Him, and He has saved us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited.

If Phyllis were able to speak to us today I believe she would want to share with you the words of this song:

Come and go with me to my Father's house, to my Father's house, to my Father's house,
Come and go with me to my Father's house,
Where there's joy, joy, joy.

It's not very far to my Father's house, to my Father's house, to my Father's house,
It's not very far to my Father's house,
Where there's joy, joy, joy.

Jesus is the Way to my Father's house, to my Father's house, to my Father's house,
Jesus is the Way to my Father's house,
Where there's joy, joy, joy.

James Weldon Johnson, in one of his "Negro Sermons in Verse" has God instructing his angel of death to bring a sister Caroline home to himself who, like Phyllis, has been "tossing on her bed of pain."

“...And God said,
Go down death
And find Sister Caroline (Sister Phyllis).
She's borne the burden and heat of the day,
She's labored long in my vineyard,
And she's tired--
She's weary--
Go down, Death, and bring her to me…

And Death took her up like a baby,
…And death began to ride again--
Up beyond the evening star…
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Caroline (Sister Phyllis)
On the loving breast of Jesus.

And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a-saying: Take your rest,
Take your rest.

Weep not--weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.

After the service, Phyllis’s cremains will be taken to rest in the Cullers Run Cemetery, where her parents and her Cullers and other ancestors are buried, but our Phyllis will not really be there. She is here, alive in our hearts and in our memories, and she is resting forever in the bosom of Jesus.

Please join me in prayer, with the words of an ancient Irish blessing:

May the blessing of light be with you--
light outside and light within.
May the sunlight shine upon you and warm your heart
‘til it glows like a great peat fire,
So that the stranger may come and warm himself by it,
and also a friend.
May a blessed light shine out of the two eyes of you
like a candle set in two windows of a house,
bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm.
May the blessing of rain--the sweet soft rain--
fall upon your spirit and wash it fair and clean.
May it leave many a shining pool where the blue of heaven shines, 
and sometimes a star.
May the blessing of earth--the good, rich earth--be with you.
May you ever have a kindly greeting for those you pass 
as you go along its roads.
May the earth be soft under you when you rest upon it,
tired at the end of the day.
May the earth rest easy over you when at the last you lie under it.
May the earth rest so lightly over you
that your spirit will be out from under it quickly,
and up, and off, and on its way to God.

Amen. Go in peace.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Pentecost Miracles Bring Heaven Down to Earth

When the Spirit of God hovers over the dark and lifeless waters in Genesis, that powerful "Ruah"/Breath/Wind of God brings glorious light and life to planet earth.

Millenia later the same gale force Spirit of God breaks in with another heaven-sent revolution of fresh light and new life.

Here are some of the God-signs we celebrate in the Pentecost story in Acts 2:

1. Language barriers are removed. Visitors in Jerusalem from all over the then known world experience a reversal of Babel, the ability to hear and understand each other on earth as in heaven. "When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were blown away. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?" (Acts 2, the Message)

2. Rich and poor, men and women, young and old alike are all blessed with an infusion of supernatural grace and power. “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit on those who serve me, men and women both..."  (Acts 2, the Message)

3. A joyful harmony and equity become clear signs of heaven that mark the community of believers on earth.  "And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. "  (Acts 2, the Message)

4. Love, joy, peace, patience and other "fruit of the Spirit" replace selfishness, pettiness, greed and conflict among God's people. "(God) brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely."  (Galatians 5 the Message)

Does all of this sound too good to be true? Or as those who embrace God's good news, is it too good not to be true, so good that we refuse to wait until the  next life to experience its blessing?