Prairie View

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Your Women Are Not Happy

Last week I read a blog post that one of my friends linked to on Facebook.  It was written by an elderly minister ordained in the Mennonite church, who was so far to the liberal side of the spectrum that he probably teetered on the brink of a steep precipice above a dark and seething morass with very little resemblance to life-changing Christian faith.  He soberly detailed various experiences and "insights" that had led him to espouse a variety of heresies (my word).

One of the minister's defining moments regarding how women should function in society and in the church came when someone outside the church looked in on the minister's congregation and said bluntly, "Your women are not happy."  The minister seemed to think this could be remedied if women were free to adopt leadership positions in society and in the church.

I had a flashback, when I read that succinct observation, of something that happened to me many decades ago, when I was quite young.  My intelligent age-mate and cousin and fellow-church member had just returned from having spent several years abroad, and we were talking--just the two of us, after church one morning--when he said that when he came back he was struck by the fact that the women in church seemed tired or depressed or unhappy.  He wondered why that was the case.  He didn't speculate further that I remember.  I do remember him saying also in that same conversation that he thinks the women's liberation movement has gotten one thing right:  women should receive equal pay for equal work.  It was the 1970s and the movement was in its prime.

I was a little taken aback by my cousin's observation, and I wanted to protest.  I didn't think I felt unhappy and didn't think that in general the women around me felt unhappy either.  I haven't obsessed over the matter, and might never have recalled it if I hadn't read "Your women are not happy" recently.  

What's the reality here?  Several possibilities come to mind:

1.  Observers are imagining unhappiness where unhappiness does not exist.

2.  Women are happy, but their happiness does not register on their faces.

3.  Women are unhappy, and only a few discerning people notice.

4.  Women are out of touch with their own feelings and think they're happy when they're not.

5.  It doesn't matter whether women are happy or not, and thinking about it is foolishness.

6.  It does matter whether women are happy or not, and discovering the reality is important.  

Can you think of possibilities that I missed?

Can you explain or defend any of the above possibilities?  Do you give assent to any, even if you can't explain or defend them?

What I most would like to hear is that women in our church are happy and they have good reason to feel that way.

What I most would like to know though is the truth, and then to be able to embrace that truth and discover God's purposes from that position.

I almost wish I hadn't read "Your women are not happy," but I did, and now that I've put it out there for others to consider thoughtfully and weigh in on, I can go back to preparing lessons for school tomorrow.  Thanks in advance for  your help.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Tidbits

We've had only one decent snow this winter, of 4-6 inches, maybe, if I'm remembering right.  Mind you, that snow might not have merited a mention if it had fallen on Iowa, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, or Maine--all places that have had some epic snow events this winter.  Nor have we had major icing events.  It's all OK, except we're really needing moisture, and our desperation is making us less choosy than we might be otherwise.  We did have a nice rain about two weeks ago.

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The annual liverwurst and fried mush dinner event that serves also as a fundraiser for Mennonite Friendship Communities (MFC) happens next Friday, Feb. 27 at Journey @ Yoder.  

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Willis Nisly preached his final sermon today at Arlington.  He has cancer, and a recent exam found that it now has spread throughout most of his body.  He is still working part time, as I understand it, although he has lots of pain.  

His wife, Becky, was hospitalized recently and was dismissed to recover at MFC.   She may have returned home now.  

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An Anabaptist Financial seminar was held yesterday at Journey @ Yoder.  I know very little about it except that my dad said that my brother Myron was scheduled to speak, among many others, I presume.  

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Our family has put a few new plans in place for Dad since Mom died.  Instead of taking turns to take in the evening meal as we had been doing for some time, we're having Dad eat the evening meal in our homes.  Both Linda and Dad are in one of our homes at noon on Sundays.

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This morning at 9:00 I got a phone call asking if I would teach our Sunday School class today.  I did it, with help from the class members.  The regular teacher realized last night that she was coming down with the flu and it didn't suit the appointed substitute.  

We started the Sunday School year with a number of ladies 80 and older, including my mother.  Today only one of them was there, and two younger ladies, Elizabeth H. and Rachel Yutzy were also absent.  I'm afraid Anne got lost on the way to class and ended up in another class, and Lizzie N. probably stayed home because she does not venture out if it snows, Judy M. has not been present for quite some time, ever since her last hospitalization.  Barbara Y. was the only oldster there, along with two of her daughters.  One of them is returning to her work in China tomorrow.  Barbara is in her nineties.  

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We cleaned the church yesterday.  After I got home I realized that we had left two ostrich feather dusters there.  This morning they were hanging in the janitor's room.  I still wonder where we left them and who found them.  I know we didn't put them away.  A bit of negligence on our part, I'm sorry to say.

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Center now has a permanently installed screen on which projected images can be viewed without moving furniture or setting up a projector in the center aisle.  A projector nestles near a beam in the peak of the ceiling.  

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Tristan and Carson spent most of the day here on Saturday, after Shane's family and ours worked together to do church cleaning.  Tristan is quite articulate.  Sample:  "I got a magazine in the mail and now I have two."  When I questioned him a little more, I learned that he was referring to the magazine I had subscribed to as part of his Christmas gift.  It's a children's magazine from National Geographic.  I had wanted to get Big Backyard like our boys used to get, but it's  not available anymore.

Carson says a lot of words, including a very clear "bot-tle."  The boys are three and one, with October and August birthdays, respectively.  

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Rachel Y. tells us that she is scheduled to speak to a women's group in Ireland in May.  It sounds like about two weeks worth of classes packed into a long weekend of sessions.  

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Brad N., one of the Cedar Crest ministers, preached at Center today.  He has aunts and uncles and cousins in our church.  At Cedar Crest, four of the ministers (Lee N., Donald M., James S., and Brad N.) are either grandsons of the late Ed and Lizzie Nisly or married a grandaughter.  The remaining ministers are over 70 and some are retired.  

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Arlen Mast was ordained as bishop at the Arlington church recently.  His grandfather, John Mast, was the local Amish bishop for many years, and his father, Edward Mast, was ordained as bishop when John retired.  His great grandfather Noah Mast was also a minister, and his great great grandfather, Daniel E. Mast, was the Dawdy Mosht of ancestral fame in this community.  He too was a minister, a deacon first, I believe.  I know it takes more than a pedigree like this to fill the office of bishop faithfully, but fortunately Arlen's qualifications go beyond this impressive pedigree.   

One slight oddity in this row of Mast ministers is that Edward Mast actually married into this family, and is not a descendant of Daniel, Noah, and John.  He married John's daughter Wilma and moved here from Ohio where he grew up,  Edward and Wilma are Arlen's parents. 

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Hiromi embarked yesterday on a cake-making project, and we have been enjoying the results.  In typical male-brain, science-project style, he prepared by assembling rice powder from three different locations:  Japan, Korea, and Thailand.  He made one small cake with rice powder from each country.

Japan was the first choice, of course, because he was trying to recreate a cake that is a specialty from Kagoshima, the southern island in Japan where his parents originated.  The problem was that he wasn't sure he could buy it in Wichita, and he was right.  He had ordered it shipped in from Denver.  He needed a white mountain yam also, however, so he went to Wichita to buy that at Thai Bhin. This is a giant carrot-shaped root, almost two feet long and slightly flattened along the long dimension.  It cost $18.00, which prompted Hiromi to declare that he won't be making this cake very often.  While shopping at various Asian markets in Wichita, he spied the other rice flours, and bought them too because they were a lot cheaper than the Japanese rice flour.  We couldn't tell much difference, so from now on the cheaper stuff will do.  

The cake is made by beating egg whites and adding sugar.  Then grated yam, which has a very slimy texture when grated raw, is mixed with water and added.  Last of all the  rice flour is mixed in.  Then it's placed in a small heat-proof container and steamed over boiling water.  

The resulting cake is very moist, pleasantly mild-flavored, and snowy white.  

Hiromi's sister and her husband came over this afternoon for cake, and we had a nice visit over cake and green tea and coffee--the preferred drinks divided along ethnic lines today--two and two.

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Japanese has a maxim that is roughly translated "There is no delicious food among regional favorites."  I think it sounds a little disrespectful and depressing, but I suppose it's saying that just because it's common and well-liked in one place doesn't mean that everyone will like it.  It makes allowance for what might be enjoyed mainly because it's one of the comfort foods of one's homeland. 

Liverwurst and fried mush?  I'm very fond of it, maybe for the above reason, but I don't suppose everyone is.

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I'm glad Hiromi wasn't working at Wal-Mart yesterday when an argument broke out in the parking lot between a woman and three other people--two men and a woman.  When the three got into a vehicle and left, the woman followed and shot repeatedly at the first vehicle.  The chase ended when the first vehicle crashed into a business building.  The shooter fled, and later turned herself in.  She was charged with attempted second degree murder and is currently cooling her heels in the county jail.

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My local birding nephews, Joseph, Bryant, and Andrew have started a blog on which they post pictures and short accounts of birding adventures.  They've been emailing me and their Uncle Bill pictures regularly over the past few years, ever since both Lowell's family and Myron's got a good bird photographing camera, and now others can start keeping track of what's going on also.  Check it out here.  Gulls are the latest feature--yes, seagulls, right here in middle America.

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LaVerne and Rebecca had both a new granddaughter and a new grandson born within the past month.  Floyd and Dorcas received a newborn daughter for adoption, Kyra Jubilee, their first child.  Craig and Rachel had a boy born to them, Enzo Shaviv.  He is their fourth child, second son.  

For Floyd and Dorcas, it's been an intense year so far.  The first adoption plan fell through, and then a second opportunity materialized abruptly.  Last week Dorcas' father died.

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My co-teacher Norma spent a short weekend in Ohio.  I hope all goes well on the return trip.  

Wesley, our principal, had a round of illness beginning last Thursday a week ago.  He returned this past Tuesday.  

No one came to school on Monday.  With Glenda still sick at the grade school, and Sheila stuck on a return trip from elsewhere, and with some students also sick, the powers that be wisely canceled school.  We had a bit of snow too--not enough to call off school, but it was a bit slick on some of the roads.  I think everyone loved the bonus time off.  

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The Shepherd's Institute was held at the Arlington church last week.  I made it there only one evening, and met two blog-readers afterward, Mary Sue Zehr and Linford Berry.  As always, meeting "unknown friends" like this was a pleasure.  

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Predicted overnight low temperature here is five degrees.  Or, as we're fond of saying, "It's going down into the digitals!"


Mellowed or Decomposed

For me, a great variety of current concerns and memories both of recent and long-ago events have swirled around the question of what one does when something in a current situation seems untenable for some reason.  This post will be a ramble through some of those situations.  If God blesses with insight and the ability to communicate, the rambles will lead us to a worthwhile destination, if not in this post, perhaps in a later one.

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I'll start with an unusual announcement we heard this morning in church.  It was about laughter in church.  I wrote about that topic here a  long time ago, after a sermon by Eli Yoder of Glays, VA.  Twila neatly summarized the announcement in the handout we get in our mailboxes after the service:  "The ministers have had some discussion about laughter in church.  Their goal is that people are involved and responsive; they also advise moderation."  In making the announcement, Gary reminded us that we're not the only ones present in a church service, and none of us want our actions to interfere with another's worship.

I appreciate this gentle approach to calling attention to the matter of decorum in church--where one person's enthusiastic affirmation can be another's disturbance.  It's exactly the kind of situation that calls for gentle guidance--not heavy-handed prohibitions or bold initiatives.

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One thing came immediately to mind--the comment Milo Z. made at the beginning of the sermon last week.  He commended us for the atmosphere he senses in our worship.  Words I recall from his commendation are "freedom in the spirit" and "decently and in order."

His sermon followed a devotional on worship that Joseph H. helpfully recalled for us again this morning by citing the main points.  Scripture, by example and injunction, when it speaks of our responsibility in worship, focuses on effort, preparation, and perfection.  Joseph went on to read several Scriptures and then had Shane lead in a time of singing for the remainder of the devotional time.  It was a good, worshipful time.

Just for the record, someone reminded me today that we had chuckled several times through Arlyn's devotional on worship--before Milo's comment.  It tells me that he, at least, did not find the chuckles offensive, but rather part of a desirable worship atmosphere.

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The "we're not the only ones present" part of the laughter announcement reminded me of what I've made a policy in the classroom--people do not open or close windows or adjust the blinds or start a fan without first checking with others in the room to see what is comfortable also for them.  If a teacher is present, that's the first person to check with.  I usually check with other students to see if the change is OK and  it usually happens, with a little direction often making it more pleasant for everyone.  Please turn the fan so it blows up or Open only the window on the right or Open it only several inches.

Observation reveals that moderation is not the natural tendency.  Crank those windows wide open.  Lower the blind all the way.  Adjust the slats of the blind to blackout position. High school students often operate near the limits.  I hope that in a small way reminders for consideration and moderation in the classroom help students in life outside of school--even extending to things like laughing in church.

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Our principal once commented mildly about a student, describing that person as "wanting to exercise a lot of control over [his or her] environment."  That put a finger on tendencies all of us had observed--irritation with other "mere mortals," unhappiness about participating in group activities,  and a fairly grim approach to school life in general.

Wishing to control one's environment too stringently is not conducive to functioning well, enjoying good relationships, or nurturing a spirit of optimism.  As noted earlier, however, doing things decently and in order, with consideration for others, often calls for some reminders to rein in excesses and exercise initiatives cautiously.  Operating near the limits is often not a good policy, especially when it involves exercising control over our environment.

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In an earlier post I referred to something I lament--a growing tendency in our community for privately-planned, outside-the-main-group gatherings, to which others are selectively invited.  This post refers to some of the reasons why I think such activities can be problematic:

1.  It can involve an unhealthy focus on creating an ideal environment instead of a humble willingness to contribute helpfully in an existing environment--a desire to control the atmosphere, if you please.

2.   Considerable freedom does already exist in the format of our public services and the services are a blessing to many--as is true also of whole-group youth activities.  I can't imagine that it can entirely be blamed on "the system" if not everyone finds these activities to their liking and opts for non-participation or replacing it with a different activity.  The atmosphere is hardly the only variable operating here. Creating an atmosphere "near the limits" for a significant number of those in the whole group is not in anyone's best interests, as I see it, at least if it must be done via heavy-handed directives or bold initiatives.

3.   Reaching out to one's neighbors and sharing Christ outside of church does happen regularly, I believe.  It's not an either/or matter--familiar, traditional activities or outreach.  It can be both/and.

4.  Sunday School classes are a sub-group within the larger group where a lot of personal interchange can occur. Investment in that subgroup and in the time spent together is something I find very rewarding.

5.  Hearing repetition of familiar truths can be a help to Christian growth and not a hindrance to it.  Jesus demonstrated how familiar shared knowledge can form the basis for deepening and extending understanding when he said:  "Ye have heard . . . , but I say unto you . . . "

Reading back over the above list reminds me of some of the things that I consider "right" in our church/community's identity, although I didn't set out to compile such a list.

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This post has languished on the composing screen for a week, and I'm afraid it hasn't improved with age.  At least I hope it hasn't been decomposing during that time.  "Mellowing" has a nicer ring.








Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Community Identity: A Critique

Several months ago I was primed to write on church/community identity when I realized that I wasn't quite ready.  Some pieces of this puzzle have fallen in place for me within the past few days, and I'm creeping out of my hidey hole to expose to the view of others the picture I'm seeing.

The plot in the pilgrims and strangers narrative thickened yesterday when Milo Zehr preached on what it means to belong to the family of God.  He began with Abraham and traced the story of being God's people--right through the Old and New Testaments and out into the life we live now.  It could hardly have been a more thorough telling of how intrinsically our identity as Christians is tied up with our identity as strangers and pilgrims, although his primary emphasis was the missionary mandate embedded in the story.  God's heart is for all  nations to be brought into His family where belonging and redemption await.

In the third and final Sunday School lesson in Hebrews 11, we reviewed yesterday what it meant for many people of the past to walk in faith.  Some experienced great triumphs, things like having the dead come back to life, seeing the mouths of lions stopped, violent flames being quenched, etc.  But terrible things befell others.  The most disturbing image is the report of some having been sawed apart.  Yet all these--the sufferers, along with the triumphant, obtained a good report, That is, God approved of them, and in the end they were rewarded.  Faith was the guarantee of approval--not immediate and visible evidence of good results.

Rachel said in our class that she used to be ever-so-sorry that the book of Acts ended where it did, with so much of the story left untold.  She now sees the unfinished story of the church as being continuously extended as the church lives out being the people of God.  In affirmation of that, Rhoda told how one of her young children once asked, "Will we someday be in the Bible too?" No and yes! child.  The writing of the Bible is done, but oh, the story of being the people of God!   That isn't done, and we're in it right now!  Someday others will know our story and see how we lived and what came of it.

I feel a palpable burden right now about our community identity in relation to living as pilgrims and strangers.  My sense is that we did a better job in this department in the past than we are doing now. Although I'm not sure that the new identity is in the majority, I believe a significant shift has occurred.  I note a lamentable difference in these areas:

1.  Consumerism (e. g. buying processed foods instead of producing food, eating out a lot, having lots of clothes--frequently replaced, expensive vehicles)

2.  Hedonism (the major question often is "Does it make me happy?" or "Is it what I want?" or "Can I afford it?" rather than more honorable and less selfish ways of deciding what to indulge in or promote or pay for--e.g. sports, music, movies, big trucks, etc.)

3.  Laziness (efficiency and convenience are king, and toilsome effort is to be avoided)

4.  Image consciousness (perish the thought of appearing to be needy or out-of-step with the times in any way)

5.  Fouling our nest (if it makes us money, we can't be bothered with consideration of how it's affecting the environment we all live in)

6.  Increasing willingness--pressure, even--to exchange personal competence and knowledge for "leaving it to the pros" (e.g. education, healthcare, food preparation, and all kinds of construction and maintenance)

7.   Definition of success in financial or tangible terms (words of wisdom or discernment or deep knowledge of intangible truths have comparatively diminished value)

8.  Independence and isolation (less commitment to supporting whole-church-or-youth-group activities like singings and Wed. eve. services and more interest in "invitation-only group" or individual activities, eroding the whole-group activities themselves, and resulting in un-included people feeling marginalized)

In the devotional at church on Sunday Arlyn challenged our thinking about worship by suggesting that it's an activity in which extravagance and even perfectionism is legitimate.  I'm still digesting some of what he said, and am not prepared to elaborate on it further--only noting that what he was advocating is a far cry from the extravagance and other acts of selfishness that I see as being counter to living life as pilgrims and strangers.

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In the dictionary I consulted, appreciation and criticism are both listed as synonyms for critique.  Obviously criticism is more in evidence in this post than appreciation.  Perhaps a later post can balance the emphasis.  While I stand by what is written here, I recognize that this is not a complete picture.







Thursday, February 05, 2015

Pilgrims and Strangers

I’m being stalked by “Pilgrims and Strangers.”  Over many months of time I've sometimes caught sight of their shadowy figures, always hurrying off  before I've had a chance to accost them and ask them what it means to be a pilgrim and a stranger.  Pondering the matter in silence has had to suffice, for the most part.

At Mom’s funeral, Shane and four accompanying friends sang “I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger” as the first song, even before the moderator spoke.  “We’re all strangers,” Shane had said when he first proposed including that song at the funeral.

Mark N. used the phrase in his recent talk at the parent-teacher meeting, in speaking of the need to live life on a course running counter to popular culture–because we’re pilgrims and strangers.

Hebrews 11:1-16 was the Bible memory passage for January at school.  I’ve heard it recited a number of times as a result.  This is the signature New Testament “pilgrims and strangers” passage.

I encountered the pilgrim and stranger concept in Hiromi-and-my January readings in the book of Genesis–in the story of Abraham.  My awareness of how Abraham exemplified this was heightened by having spent the past number of weeks poring over the book of Hebrews–reading it over and over, copying various outlines I’ve found on the book, reading it in various versions, taking notes, etc.

I read Genesis against the background of what Hebrews says of Abraham and his faithful cohorts, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Sarah--that they all obtained God’s approval.  By faith Abraham  obeyed in leaving his homeland to travel to an unknown country, dwelling in tents, looking for a city with firm foundations, built and made by God.   Abraham was persuaded of God’s promises, and embraced them, and confessed that he was a stranger and pilgrim on the earth, by it declaring plainly that he was in search of a better country.  God is not ashamed to be called the God of people who live by faith, who seek a heavenly country.

Last Sunday’s Sunday School lesson was Hebrews 11:11-22, which contains the exact phrase “pilgrims and strangers.”  In our class, someone asked “What does it mean today for us to be pilgrims and strangers?”

In our prayer together at home last night I prayed  aloud what has haunted me privately for a long time, “Lord, teach us what it means to be pilgrims and strangers.”

On one of those rare and perfect January days we had recently, sunny and calm, with the temperature between 60 and 70 degrees, I walked around the outside of the building at school and paused at the front entrance a moment before going back inside.  I had checked on some of the landscape plantings our students designed and installed, and noted especially the plants underneath the letters of our school name, Pilgrim Christian School.  I remembered wistfully how much nicer it looks there when the variegated-leaf wegelia is fully leafed  out and laden with pink tresses, and when the ornamental grass grows straight and tall beside the sign, helping to accent and frame it.  I looked carefully at the school-name sign itself and wondered if it could be removed and taken with us when our school moves.  It appears to be very securely fastened.  I soon realized that if the sign stayed after the school left, it would convey an inaccurate  message.  It would almost certainly have to be removed.  The plants could stay without such a problem.

The letters of “Pilgrim Christian School” were nicely made, apparently formed by bending slender square metal rods into very simple and attractive letter shapes.   There is no stiffness in the design–just enough departure from ball and stick form to give a touch of gracefulness and fluidity.  Spacers were welded onto the back of the letters to make them stand out away from the freshly-plowed-dirt-colored brick exterior wall they were fastened onto.  The white paint on the letters is not in perfect condition anymore after 30-some years, but they still stand out nicely from the dark background.  I wondered who crafted the letters of “Pilgrim Christian School.”  Those letters look like plodding pilgrim letters–utterly lacking in ostentation, strong and durable and easy to read by whoever has occasion to enter the church yard, but not emblazoned so boldly that they catch the eye of passers by.

The school name at the new location, in its previous iterations, always had an identifier in wide flat black glossy-painted letters mounted on the east-facing exterior wall to the north of the front entrance so as to be visible from the road.  Our simple and slender white “Pilgrim Christian School” letters would get lost on that wall and probably won’t be useful at the new site.  I’m not sure why that realization makes me cry.  A scrap-metal pile just seems like a sad destination for a “pilgrim,” even if it’s made of metal.

F. Y., the local lady who is at home briefly right now from her teaching job in China had a contribution in Sunday School, in answer to the question about how to make being pilgrims and strangers practical.  In essence she said that it makes a big difference if we remember that our real home is in heaven.  This understanding prompts people to live very differently than they would otherwise.  She sees it in her students, in many who have no hope of heaven.  They feel justified in doing everything possible to make their lives as comfortable as possible, acting greedy and stepping on others as necessary to get what they want.

I can only believe that those Chinese students have not been noticing the host of strangers and pilgrims who are journeying toward or have already arrived at their true home. They haven’t seen the Savior and the angels welcome those who live as strangers and pilgrims.  They can’t fathom that a place exists where they  don’t forever feel slightly off-balance in the place they  occupy, as strangers do, or feel restless because they  know they  must move on, as pilgrims do.

Those stalkers?  Witnesses, examples, admonitions,  and reminders actually.   I must do as they teach me: be persuaded of God’s promises, embrace those promises, confess that I too am a stranger and pilgrim on the earth.  By this I can declare plainly that I seek a better country beyond this life.

“Poor Wayfaring stranger” and  “Plodding Pilgrim.”  Obtaining God’s approval and receiving God’s promises makes these humble identities worth coveting and pursuing.



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Faith Becomes Sight

This event happened within the last few hours before my mother died.  For some reason I don't understand completely, the marvel of it didn't sink in for me until more than a week after that.  When it did, I found it a great comfort.  It involved our family friend Jayapradha, from India.  She now lives in the United States.

Jayapradha has loved my parents ever since she first met them about 44 years ago, and they have had sporadic contact.  If you're a longtime blog reader you may remember the story of when she and her neurosurgeon-in-training son spent Christmas with our family several years ago.  They stayed in the home of my sister Lois and her family.  Jayapradha and Lois talk on the phone several times a month, on average.

As a young girl, Jaya came to know and love Jesus when He appeared to her and introduced Himself. She endured a great deal of suffering as she began to follow Him, to the distress of her Hindu family.  Through her others also came to know Jesus.  After about ten years of ministry in India, at the age of 16 she first came to U.S.  It was on that trip that she visited in our home and ate at our table and spoke to a small group of church friends on a weekday evening.

Later she married a fine Christian Indian man and they had two sons.  When the boys were still young, their father died of brain cancer.  Jayapradha has since married an American man.  Her parents are Christians now.

Jaya knows many things only because the Holy Spirit reveals them to her.  The first time she was to speak to an audience in the United States, she spoke in English, despite never having studied or learned English.  Repeatedly, on the phone, when Lois has begun to describe a situation she'd like Jayapradha to pray about, Jaya will talk and pray aloud, mentioning accurate details that Lois hasn't told her.  She has explained simply that sometimes "I see things because God shows them to me."  On the way home from the hospital, when Lois called to tell her that Mom had died, Jaya already knew, although no one had notified her.  When Mom had unexplained bleeding after her heart surgery, Jaya told Lois that she will be alright, and she was.

Before Mom died, Jaya had called and talked to Lois first and then asked to talk to Dad.  At that time, she wished to talk to Mom, but it didn't work out, since members of the family were individually telling Mom goodbye.  It was after she had died that she told Lois that she had seen God taking Mom into heaven's Holy of Holies.  She also said, "I saw the Savior and the angels welcoming her, and the angels were really, really happy."

In 1971, when Mom cooked up that delicious meal of Indian rice and curry for Jayapradha and the Holdeman family who brought her to see us, who would have thought that all these years later, in a sad time of parting, that same young slip of a girl would be "with us"  to bring sight to our faith?  The Savior and the happy angels welcoming Mom. . . it would surely have been true, whether or not human eyes had glimpsed this.  To have the great gift of this comfort from God is a real treasure.  Praise God!

  


A Bright Spot for a Sober Subject

Because I wish all the parents of our students could have been at our parent-teacher's meeting last night, and because even if you're not a parent of one or more of our students, you might benefit, I'm going to do something of a blow-by-blow retelling of what we heard.  Mark N., our school board chairman, delivered the message.  In general terms, it was about the need to keep secular culture from becoming part of Christian School culture.

Much of this will be directly from my notes, in sound-bite form.  Many "quotes" will have minor editing to compensate for my truncated note-taking or to explain what I understood to be the intended meaning.

--It's comparatively easy to observe and even to manage a problem, but not easy to bring about definitive change.

--Bringing about definitive change is complicated by the fact that it often takes effort from more than one person to effect change.

--The word "gapiose" is a homemade word that means a gap of undetermined (and perhaps indefinable) size.  This word was used late in the presentation to refer to the space between secular and Christian culture.

--Hebrews 11:9 tells us that Abraham (a God-follower) was a stranger in a foreign country (among people who did not follow God).  Christians are strangers in the world of secular culture.

--Secular and Christian cultures do not run parallel, but run counter to each other.

--Children typically engage the world around them primarily with their eyes and ears.  To what extent can our children engage with the culture without becoming assimilated?

--We can't live like natives [in a secular culture] and be an alien at the same time [citizen of the heavenly country].

--We must be on guard against the possibility of our children becoming assimilated into secular culture.

--Please don't let your children come to school and contribute to popular [secular] culture.  In such a situation, the weaker creature becomes a victim of the stronger.  In effect, the less informed are made to feel less "with it" than those who are highly informed--regarding secular culture.  (This was a temporary shift to a second-person focus.)

--Our school should never be the place where secular and sacred cultures compete.

--Our community can benefit from the synergistic effect of families, schools, and churches working together [to support efforts to nurture a Christian culture and to resist being assimilated by secular culture].

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Mark named movies, secular music, and sports as elements of popular culture that students sometimes seem to have too much access to.  He reminded us that not having radio or TV in our homes represents a very insignificant means of control if we exercise no restraint in the use of the internet via cell phones or otherwise--where all the same things can be accessed.

In a timely reference to impending events, Mark referenced the Superbowl as an element of popular culture.

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I endorse Mark's message, and heard in it many things that I have said or written myself.  I can't remember that much was said about video games--another time-wasting, critical-thinking-killing black-hole preoccupation.

I wished to hear from the parents gathered there what they would like for teachers to do who listen in on promotion of secular culture among students, but I didn't ask.  I probably hear less of it than if I hadn't taken some decisive measures to curb it in the past.

I liked hearing what Paul H. said about providing interesting and useful activities for children to engage in alongside their parents as a way of combating the tendency for children to get sucked into less worthwhile activities.  That's something that homeschooling parents and maybe "farmer parents" usually "get," but I'm not sure that nearly all parents of classroom-schooled children do.  So it was really nice to hear from someone who does.

Even if parents of classroom-schooled students do "get it," they often feel that their hands are tied because they feel that "being supportive" of school efforts demands that schoolwork trumps family-planned activities.  I'm sure that some students are not above using school obligations in an unwarranted way--as a ticket to freedom from onerous household chores, etc., and some teachers do not act mindfully regarding what they require of students, so this is not entirely a parent-created problem.

Another parent wondered aloud if even the tiniest signal from a parent--with reference to popular culture--is not often magnified by a child when it's retold among peers.  I can easily believe this, given what I know about the dynamics of peer pressure.

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For the parent-teacher meeting we spent most of the evening around tables decorated with a Kansas'-birthday theme--154 years ago on Jan. 29.  On a cold, rainy evening, the inside space was bright with sunflowers and golden wheat bouquets, thanks to some of the grade school teachers who pulled it together.  We started with hot drinks and continued after Mark's talk with carry-in finger foods.  Discussion continued around the tables over snacks.  I feel sorry for those of you who missed it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Match, A Fuse, and Dynamite

I know this blog seems stuck on a single subject, of late, but I plead a need to keep processing, thereby getting ready to move on to other subjects.

Another overwhelming impression I have from my mother's funeral is that an amazing number of people will drop whatever their busy lives involve to attend the funeral of someone whom they knew and loved or were related to or who was related to or loved by someone they know.  Others who are unable to attend will go to great lengths to show how much they care.  This outpouring of caring is not easy to understand but is so easy to be thankful for.

I'm going to attempt to list here some of the people who came, mostly for my own benefit, and in the interest of preserving a memory.  No one will ever know if you skip reading any farther, and you're welcome to do so.  Those who see errors or omissions, please feel free to speak up.

My mother was a Beachy who grew up in Iowa.  She came from a family of ten children and was number eight in the family.     Surviving are an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister.  All of them were able to come for the funeral, although traveling was not easy for all of them.
Mom's older brother Joe and his wife Mary (who is Dad's sister) came from Iowa.  Their sons Landon and Kenneth also came from there.  Another son Lloyd came from Canada, and a fourth son, Ellis, came from Alabama.  On a recent trip, Mary suffered both a stroke and a heart attack, but did not seem much the worse for either of those health problems.

Mom's younger brother Jesse and wife Ruth came from Gladys, VA.  Their daughter, Esther, and husband Richard Bowman traveled with them.  Richard had spent a summer working here at Miller Seed about 30 years ago, and many of us remember him from that time.  Ruth was a friend of my mother's before she was a sister-in-law.  She grew up in northern Indiana, with family at Woodlawn.  I think she was a Bontrager.

Mom's older sister Fannie Jane Miller came from Florida.  Her son Harold (Harry) came from Texas and her only daughter Lillian came from California.  Fannie Jane's husband died some time ago.  Harry is a pastor and works with hospice as a grief counselor.  Who knew?  Another son lives near our son in Asia.  Aunt Fannie Jane traveled with Dad's brother Mahlon and wife Fannie from Florida.  They had gone there to spend the winter.  All three of them had wheelchair service in the airports en route, and the wheelchair attendants were thoroughly confused by the two Fannie Millers they were to transport-until Fannie Jane helpfully spoke up and provided a middle name.

Mom's younger sister, Esther Zook came from Iowa.  She is a widow, and most of her children also came.  Larry and his wife Jewel and their two children and Jason and one of his sons, and Ella Jean Walker all came from the Kalona area.  Leon and Emma Zook came from their home in western Iowa with their family.  Aunt Esther's daughter Joyce and her husband Jerold (sp?) Martin came from South Carolina.

Cousin Ellen and husband Don Gingerich represented  my Uncle Ray's family.  They came from Stover, Mo.  We have visited in their home, and visited our friend Eunice Officer nearby several times before we discovered how close Ellen lived to her.  Don and Ellen came to help celebrate  my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 2000, and visited here again last summer.  We appreciate their interest very much.

From Uncle Glen's family, came six of my first cousins:  Ruth, Roy, Alvin, and Timothy Beachy.  Two of their married sisters also came, Anna Mae and Mary Sue.  Anna Mae's husband Clayton and daughter Lois also came along.  These cousins of mine are also cousins to the grown children in the Alvin Yoder family, so they hosted some of these relatives.

Mom had three remaining siblings, John, Earl, and Jonas.  A wedding among Earl's descendants and a funeral in Jonas' family prevented most of the people from these families attending.  John's descendants who live in Iowa were from the church where the deceased man attended, so they were not inclined to leave at such a time.  The deceased man had five siblings who are married into Uncle Jonas' family, so they didn't come either.  Victor Kauffman, who lived with us for some time but now lives in Missouri, represented Earl's family, when many of the others had gone to the wedding in Pennsylvania.

So there you have the Beachy relatives' attendance summary.  The count stands at 42, by my calculations.

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At the small gathering for family before the funeral, my uncle Jesse shared a saying his brothers used to repeat among themselves about their sisters.  They called Esther the match, Mary, the fuse, and Fannie, the dynamite.  While Esther's and Mary's personality and role might be just a trifle ambiguous from this, no one will miss the implications of Fannie's designation.  Now, at the age of 91, she still shows evidence of that childhood identity.

Fannie provided many an entertaining moment over the time of the funeral, but early in the following week she became quite ill with Influenza, Type B.  She had been staying at the home of her cousin Lena (married to Vernon Miller).  It was clear that she would not be able to travel back to Florida on Wednesday with Mahlon and Fannie, and she moved instead to Marvin and Lois' house to finish recovering.  Late in the week, Lois took her to the doctor, who diagnosed the problem.  We were all relieved it wasn't pneumonia, which her deep cough made us fearful of.

Present plans are for Marvin and Lois to accompany her to Florida this coming Wednesday, a week later than originally planned.  The doctor thinks she should be able to manage that travel if this illness takes its normal course.

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I never realized until the time over Mom's funeral that she was precisely 4 1/2 years younger than Fannie and 4 1/2 years older than Esther.  The oldest in the family were boys, and brothers were interspersed between the sisters on either side of Mom in the family.  Esther is the youngest.

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Another revelation for me was something Myron picked up on more than I ever did--that Mom probably always felt some longing for Iowa, even after being away from there for 64 years.  Except for one very short time period--a year, perhaps--when her sister Esther lived in Kansas, she never again lived near her sisters.  Her brother Joe lived in Kansas a short time after he married a Kansas girl, but they moved to Iowa after that time.  Jesse moved away from Iowa relatively early in his marriage, and John did so late in life.  Fannie moved to Florida after their children were all gone from home.  Otherwise, most of the family lived and died in Iowa.

We always marveled at the diversity in Mom's family regarding church affiliation.  Two of them were in a "Nationwide" (Non-conference conservative) group, two were Old Order Amish, and two were "Sunnyside" (Conference Conservative).  Otherwise, no two of them attended the same church.  Mom was the only "Beachy" in this Beachy family.  Mom's parents, however, were among the people in Iowa who took a keen interest in the movement that eventually birthed the Beachy church, and attended a "missions" meeting in Kalona shortly before my parents' wedding.  People from here attended also, and I heard Willie Wagler refer to that meeting as a pivotal event in establishing what eventually became the Beachy church.  My grandparents stayed Old Order.

On a side note, I remember my mother saying that Dad was asked to be moderator at that meeting in Iowa.  The bishop who was to marry my parents (Will Yoder?), however, counseled him not to do so, and he refrained.  It's not clear to me whether the minister gave that counsel based on his own reservations about the wisdom of the direction this might take people (I didn't get that impression) or whether he feared that it would arouse concern from others.  Further randomness:  My impression is that the Amish in Iowa who stayed Amish actually became more insular after this, and less open to change and reaching out to others beyond themselves.  In 1950, the Amish in Iowa and Kansas had a lot in common.

Making a home in Kansas could not have been helped by the fact that the early years of Mom's living here coincided with very disagreeable and extreme summer weather.  As Myron described it, she  must have felt that she had left Eden for the Great American Desert.

I'll have to write another post on the people who came for the funeral, as I didn't nearly make it all the way around.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

By Heart

Picking away piecemeal at the copious harvest of emotions, memories, and impressions after my mother's death doesn't seem quite right, as if momentous occasions call for momentous expressions.  I can't manage grand expressions though right now, and I realize I may never be able to do so.  So I'll settle for what comes to mind, banal as it is.

One overwhelming impression I have is the blessing of song--with profound words, with accessible music, sung often and learned by heart.  That impression was driven home for me on the last two days of Mom's life especially.  All of us who could get there gathered in Mom's hospital room for Sunday afternoon and evening and again on Monday afternoon and evening.  We didn't sing all the time, but we sang a lot.  No one had thought to bring along song books, so it was all from memory.

Our family is all over the map when it comes to natural musical ability, but my siblings and I all had the privilege of singing regularly as we were growing up, and we all got better at it as we got older, thanks to some good examples, good teachers, and lots of participation.  Each of these singing experiences allowed a deposit in our "song bank," and made possible those hours of constant withdrawals around our mother's deathbed.  Our spouses and children added their voices to the  mix and helped make the songs ring.

As we sang, I didn't always travel back in memory to the time and place where I learned the songs we sang, but I did enough of that to resolve to do what I can to raise awareness of how significant these "forgettable" singing experiences can be.   Songs can carry you through some of the darkest times in life, and treating singing opportunities as the treasures that they are makes good sense.

Some of the songs we sang came from songbooks we have used as hymnals in our church services.  Church and Sunday School Hymnal was the first English songbook I remember using.  "Glory Gates" came from that book.  The next one was Church Hymnal.  "Lift Your Glad Voices" came from there." Within the past year or two we have purchased Hymns of the Church.  Many songs we sang came from all of these books.

When I was in grades seven and eight in school, we sang from Songs of the Church for devotions.  At least one song we sang came from that book.  How's that for a public school singing experience?  We were blessed by  having my uncle Perry as our teacher and principal.  "Sunset and Evening Star" came from that book.

At Calvary Bible School we used first the Christian Hymnal and then Christian Hymnary.  I think we sometimes also used Gospel Choir.  Choir was a daily activity there.

At our Sunday evening youth singings we used a variety of songbooks, usually whatever the host suggested, and we sang for an hour.  These included Songs That Live, which was used at Messiah Bible School at one time, Favorites, some books from the Inspiration Series, and many of the above hymn books.  In recent years, Songs of Faith and Praise has sometimes been used, as has Mennonite Hymnal.

We often sang a song or two during family devotions.  Sometimes they were children's songs, but often at least one hymn was included.

Students who attend Pilgrim Christian Schools learn many songs there, although I'm not aware that any specific hymnals are used regularly in the classroom.  I never attended Pilgrim, but some of my younger siblings did.

Notably absent from my personal repertoire of songs-by-heart are songs I've learned from recordings or from live concerts.  I won't bother to explain or defend that--only to point out that modest ability and regular participation in group singing really are sufficient preparation for times when no words seem right and some expression is called for.  

I hope the people growing up now don't neglect to include lots of singing investments in this time of their lives.  Needing to sing around the bedside of a dying parent is only one of the times that hymns by heart offer a rewarding return on those investments.