Prairie View

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Nature, Children, and Words: Regrets and Hopes

I had almost forgotten how intense summer heat can induce the feeling of eyeballs steaming in their sockets.  I've felt it again recently.  My glasses have steamed over too when I've gone outside from an air-conditioned space.  We're having triple-digit days and we really need rain.  Dust clouds in the backyard from the lawnmower and from the hay rake in the adjacent alfalfa field provide obvious visual clues about how dry the soil is.

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I wonder if other people obsess as I do  over things I wish I had said, or things I wish I had said differently.  In teaching a Sunday School class last Sunday and in conversations with at least three different people over the weekend, I have subsequently re-hashed and regretted what happened.  These things are not really big enough to follow up on and correct, but they could have been softened, or could have been said more  precisely or more completely.  Dwelling unduly on such things is fodder for craziness, of course, and the matter is best left to God to sort out and redeem.

Writing instead of talking does not prevent all such problems, but it does have the advantage of allowing more reflection in the act of communicating.  Reflection is usually a good way to "cut off at the pass" a great store of potential for later regrets.

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Later . . .

It's raining!!!!!  I can hardly take my eyes off of it long enough to go on typing.  The day is still young, and in the quiet before Hiromi gets up I listened to a short video clip by Richard Louv.  Earlier I listened to an NPR interview with Louv, and some day when I have an hour available I  might listen to  the talk on nature, creativity, and health here.  (Update:  I couldn't resist, and did it as I was starting my day's work.)

Louv grew up on the edge of Kansas City, so he's a mid-western native, and as a fellow-mid-westerner, I'm proud to claim him.  I also really like how he does not ridiculously romanticize nature, he does not rail against activities many children engage in instead of playing outside (although he expresses regret), and he recognizes that some benefits of connection with nature are deeply spiritual.  Last Child in the Woods:  Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder has a section near the end of the book that would have fit in perfectly with our philosophy statement in the science curriculum document we created.  It's part of a quote from a Christian homeschooling mother.  Spirituality begins with a sense of wonder.  That may not be an exact quote from Louv, but it's close.
Louv notes that the same two decades that saw a huge spike in enthusiasm regarding organized sports also saw the greatest increase in childhood obesity and attention deficit disorder.  Concurrently, school-day play spaces began consisting predictably of level, surface-altered outdoor spaces (often paved) or even  more drastically-altered and climate-controlled indoor spaces.  In these kinds of play spaces, those who usually dominate are physically strong or athletically able--certainly not those with a well-developed sense of wonder.  In the worst case scenarios, bullies are born and life becomes more and more miserable for those at the bottom of the pile.

Team sports mania that in other places has become highly commercialized can sprout and grow in places such as gyms and ever-so-carefully-prepared ball fields.  What is sacrificed in such play spaces is the ability to be creative and the ability to build skills that are useful in a cooperative community (in contrast to a competitive one).  Louv and I both believe that this results in out-of-balance childhoods, and that the results are not typically laudable.  Louv somewhat playfully but also dead-seriously describes the results with the words "deficit" and "disorder."  

For about ten years I have been pondering Louv's insights on the importance of keeping alive and nurturing the connection between children and nature.  In the intervening years his ideas have become self-evident to me, and I dreamed often about how schools could help re-establish this connection.  The dreams have nearly died many times, as internal change seemed very hard to come by, and as one by one the choices for our new school seemed to move us farther away from these connections.

In recent weeks I have revisited those ideas in more detail again as part of the discussion about the science curriculum at our Christian school, and I am daring to hope again.   In our teaching of science at the grade school level, we are being very intentional about incorporating weekly times of direct observation and interaction with what is present in outdoor environments.  It takes a lot more "doing" than it would in a less developed area, but we're working hard at finding or creating "pockets" of natural places our children might be able to access. We're not going as far as the school I heard of where students spend six hours in natural areas every Friday, but we're doing more than was done here before.

Credit goes to several past teachers whose efforts I applaud, although I'm sure I haven't heard about all that was done.  One mother told me that when Dwight taught her son, incorporating a lot of nature observation into the time at school, school became manageable again for him.  Before that she was on the verge of pulling him out in favor of homescooling, even though she had no vision for homeschooling.  She saw it as a rescue operation.  Will's own enthusiasm for interacting with nature influenced his students positively.  For several years my set of field guides lived in his classroom as much as they lived on my shelves.  Betty occasionally took her students across the road to play in the shelterbelt, and reported that they did amazingly creative kinds of play in that environment.

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Richard Louv is a journalist.  My years of helping guide students in researching current events and issues have given me a tremendous respect for good journalists.  I can't imagine all the difficulties that such a profession might entail for a Christian, but I have caught a small glimpse of the good that might result from having Christians in such a profession.  I would be very pleased if someone who started their academic training under the Pilgrim umbrella became a journalist.  From what I've learned from Louv, I suspect that this will be more likely to happen if children and nature are firmly connected throughout childhood.  Confidence (coupled with appropriate humility born of wonder), creativity, and good health are great preparation for such a profession, or any other.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Wrapup--July 12, 2015If

I'm afraid the little snippets you'll encounter here won't sear themselves into your psyche as the outdoor atmosphere is searing itself into the physique of our state's residents today.  We're under a heat advisory, and at 7:00 PM the heat index still stands at 103 degrees.  By contrast, we'll all be fortunate if the snippets reach a comfortable 70-degree mark.

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Mrs. I has a new camera, and she's bumbling through figuring out how to use it.  Nature photography is one of the main goals for this camera, but it's certain that many birds and insects will come and go while she's still working on deciphering the instruction manual.

It's not a DSLR, so all the photography snobs will know right off that this camera does not hold a candle to the really good ones.  It is, however, far more sophisticated than anything Mrs. I encountered in the book on photography she bought and mostly understood some decades ago.

OK.  Back to first person.

The zoom mostly didn't after I finally got that adorable little fledgling located inside the viewfinder yesterday.  I located the zoom button after I returned to the house.  The little lever by the shutter button had produced only minor results.

In aiming the camera, I reminded myself of Tristan learning to use the binoculars I keep by the patio doors.   Up and down and from side to side.  For way too long, this sweeping action produced only views of leaves.  I kept thinking I should put the camera up to my face to get the view focused, but rational thought prevailed and I went back to the tilting action.  I wasn't quite ready to do what Tristan eventually does.  He looks through the binoculars backwards, delighting himself with the novel perspective.

I reviewed the shots I had captured, even before I left the little bush which was the site of the filming, thanks to a quick little check in the manual before I ventured out.

Early on, I decided that my modus operandi with this camera would be to "just do it."  With that surge of confidence, I first attached the neck strap to the camera body and attached the lens cap "string" to both the lens cap and the neck strap.  That lens string is very clever, and appropriate for the likes of absent-minded me.   Hiromi helped me find the battery compartment on the bottom of the camera, after I had first misread the manual and activated the pop-up flash on top instead.

No memory card came with the camera, so I didn't snap any photos at first.  What I did next was set the date and time on the camera.  By following the directions carefully I got everything perfect in that department, except for one small problem:  The PM should have been an AM.  Try as I might, I could not highlight that notation in order to change it.  Silly me.  All it took was advancing through the "hour" settings till I passed 12, at which time "AM" popped up.  I kept going till the hour was right, and it was all set.

I still have no clue what many of the markings on the screen and on the "settings" dial indicate, but now I can make that lens zoom in and out like pro.  I regularly give thanks that I live in the post-film-camera era, and I don't have to pay for developing each terrible picture I take.

I look at it this way:  Everything I try will help me understand whatever help I'm offered as time goes by.  Four miles south of here and four miles north of here reside three teenage nephews who are experts at this nature photography business.  Check out this link for evidence.  Farther north and a few miles east are more nieces and nephews who are expert photographers.  At this point, I really don't know what to ask them.  I haven't even tried uploading the picture to the computer (more manual time needed) or I'd send them a copy of the bird pictures I have--on the chance that they could help identify it.  None of the panicked adults fluttering around looked like what I thought the fledgling looked like--a Western Kingbird.

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I am embarking on regular expotitions.  If you don't know what expotitions are, your Winnie-the-Pooh repertoire must have gaps in it.  He went on an expotition to the North Pole.

My expotitions take me on a route around the perimeter of our three-acre property, with many forays into the interior.  I carry a little pad of sticky notes and a pen.  On it appear many notes and drawings.  As each paper is filled, it gets stuck on the back of the notepad.  On the first expotition I also had a pair of binoculars.  I'll be taking the camera on future expotitions.  The focus is on life in the outdoors.  When I get back inside, I record it all in a Word document.

I have some trepidation about the next expotition because of Hiromi's diligent weed-whacking activities over the past week.  His purposes and mine are at odds in this matter.  The untidy edges of the property are the most interesting and diverse parts of the landscape, and I'd like them left alone--out back, in the fence row especially.  Where he sees weeds, I see diversity and abundant life.  I know fall grasses, but what are these in bloom now?  I suspect the clumps I saw last week fell to the string trimmer.

The expotitions are a help in meeting many of the goals I have for this sabbatical year.  All of them fall under the general goal of being restored in every part of my being--equipped and empowered again to serve.

Physically, I feel "better than ever."  Dr. Morgan, the surgeon-oncologist who worked me over on May 13, has now released me to the care of my family practice physician, whom I will need to see for routine exams every three months for now.  I have no restrictions on my activity.  Right after Dr. Morgan told me that, in a flash of good humor, she said that if there is anything I really don't want to do though, she'll be happy to proscribe it for six months or so.  I couldn't think of such a thing, and we laughed together at the joke.  I'll be happy to recommend Dr. Morgan to anyone who needs the services she offers.

Being in nature restores my soul.  It's where I feel most alive and worshipful. By way of the expotitions, I'm grateful for being able to piggyback on this love of nature several other goals I've had for a long time.

I want to establish some regular exercise habits.  I want to develop something other than a "grind-my-teeth-in-frustration" relationship with Microsoft Word.  So far, WordPerfect has my heart, and I can hardly tolerate Word, but Hiromi says I have to learn to use Word, and so I'm trying to do that.  Doing it by way of a nature journal is helping to make it tolerable.  Ditto on camera use.  Using it for a nature journal is helping provide motivation to get this under  my belt.  Buying a camera now was Hiromi's idea, so this opportunity feels like a gift.

Since I don't have to leave home on most days, my early-morning quiet times are leisurely and spirit-strengthening.  I don't set an alarm, but I still usually wake before 5:30, eager to get up and get to my devotions chair.

As part of the work on the curriculum review committee, my brain is getting a workout.  I've been re-reading Last Child in the Woods:  Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.  This seminal book on children and nature is absolutely convincing.  I purchased the book soon after it was published in 2005 and have read it several times since then.  Most recently, I read it right through exactly one week ago, and took notes well into the morning hours.  Reading it again reminded me why I risked being on the "wrong" side of earlier community decisions regarding education--because of Louv's ideas that had become instinctive with me by then.

For the Children's Sake is another book that has heavily influenced my thinking on education.  Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's ideas in that book (based on Charlotte Mason's ideas) are compatible with Louv's and form another part of my instinctive ideas by now.

Interacting with other educators outside of a small school staff also helps keep my brain occupied.  Email is a convenient way to do this.

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As preparation for studying the final chapter of Daniel today in Sunday School, Rose asked us to come back this Sunday with an idea on who the character in Daniel 11 refers to.  I'm not sure if she said it or if the question morphed into something different in my mind because of a heading in my Bible that referred to this person as the Antichrist.  So I set out to learn about the identity of the Antichrist--because I thought that was what I was supposed to do.  I learned today that Rose's source suggested that the Daniel 11 character was a prophecy concerning Herod--of birth-of-Christ fame.  That actually seems to me to make some sense.

I don't gladly delve into prophecy controversies, and I quickly became disenchanted with what seemed like a very strong bias in the two study Bibles I use regularly.  So I switched tactics and looked at the verses in the Bible that actually use the Antichrist term.  Jesus used it in Matthew 24, Paul used it in writing the second letter to the Thessalonians (or terms very similar), and John used it in his epistles--especially in I John 2.  To my knowledge it does not appear in the book of Revelation or in any Old Testament prophetic writings.  

The name Antichrist is often thought to apply to the Beast of Revelation 13.  I need more evidence before this identity "leap" seems right to me.  I feel the same about the prophecy in Daniel 11.

Antichrist is clearly sometimes used as an adjective in scripture.  It's used as a proper noun far less frequently, and I'm wary of professed knowledge about this character's identity beyond what is revealed in scripture.

In the meantime, we do well to be informed about what Jesus, Paul, and John tell us about those who are antichrist.  They lie, in an effort to deceive.  Some will show great signs and wonders in a further effort to deceive.  They don't believe that Jesus came in the flesh.  The Father and Son are denied as well, as stated in I John 2: 22--“Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.” They may claim to be the Messiah and desire to be worshiped.

In contrast to the speculative and disturbing interpretations of both Daniel and Revelation, what I learned from reading other NT scriptures about the antichrist gives clarity and hope.  Here are some objective measures by which we can learn whether a person is antichrist.  I also really enjoyed what surfaced in our Sunday School class as people shared about what they understood from the study of Daniel.  None of what they said sounded anything like the strident "lid down over everything" treatment of Daniel I found in my study Bible.  I like our Sunday School class treatment of the study best.

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We're studying Romans next in Sunday School.  I hoped for studying Nehemiah.  I read it earlier this year and, surprisingly, lessons of leadership leaped from its pages.  I was expecting to find something else.

Some people can't wait to get out of the Old Testament back into the New.  I am not like that.

I don't have the best memories of the last time that I taught Romans in Sunday School.  It had a lot more to do with my state of health and mind at the time than of the content of the book, I'm sure.  I did not know yet that I was suffering from low thyroid function, and I remember really struggling to get beyond a surface understanding of the book, and then struggling to remember it long enough to pass it on.

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Today in church Floyd and Dorcas were present with their beautiful infant daughter, Kyra Jubilee.  She joined the family by adoption as a newborn, seven years after her parents' marriage.  

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Can anyone tell me something about how to use cedar wood in outdoor structures, or do I have to bother Jay Yoder to tell me?  I'm talking about nearly-30-year-old dead trees that are still standing.  These windbreak trees died in the drought of 2012 and following.  I'm eyeing those straight trunks and limbs as potential gateway arches or arbors or trellises (Help me out here.  None of these terms seems quite right).

I've learned that the sap wood decays quickly--which explains why Jay always peels this off.  Compared to Osage Orange, it seems light-weight, and it's hard for me to imagine it being as durable outdoors as some say it is.  Does it need a finish?  If so, what?  What we have available is Eastern Red Cedar.  It's a lot easier to work with than Osage Orange, so that's a benefit of cedar wood.

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This past week was the funeral of Dan Schrag, who was 93.  If you have a chance, read the poetic thoughts written by Dan's daughter Ann.  They were read at the funeral.  It consisted of a series of "You see . . . I see . . ." comparisons between what others saw of Dan in his last years after dementia had set in, and what Ann knew of her father's earlier life and capabilities.  The thoughts were beautifully crafted and very poignant.

Dan and Betty first came to our church when their family was young.  They lived in the Hesston area at the time.  Dan was a welder at what was then Hesston Corporation.  AGCO is the current name.  It's a big farm equipment manufacturer.

For a time, they had attended a Holdeman church in the Hesston area, but they eventually found their way to our church, which they preferred--I'm told--because they sensed less exclusivity with us.

When their children were old enough to help on a farm, Dan and Betty moved, first to Wisconsin, and then to New York, where they bought a dairy farm.  After about ten years, in 1993, when the children had left home, they moved back to Kansas and built a retirement home in the Pleasantview area.  They've been part of Center ever since.

Dan and Betty made a wonderful contribution to our church.  They attended church activities faithfully and seized many opportunities to pray with others, to attend special meetings, and to learn by attending seminars, etc.  They studied scripture and shared it in letters to members on the mission field.  Dan was on the committee that selected Labette County, KS as the location for a church outreach.

Betty was one week younger than my mother, and she and I share a June 9 birthday.  In the earlier years of  my teaching at Pilgrim, Betty and I walked together most afternoons.  She was 75, and a wonderful walking companion.  One of Betty's specialties was making cards.  They were real works of art.

A week ago today, Dan and Betty were sitting side by side and holding hands while Betty read aloud from Psalm 34.  Betty felt Dan's hand relax and she thought he had gone to sleep.  Waking up in heaven must have happened right then.  I can't think of a more peaceful way to die.

 


Friday, July 10, 2015

Science on My Brain

When time between blog posts stretches out longer than usual, one of several things might be going on.  I might be in a paralyzed funk of feeling overwhelmed and tired and slow-brained.  Usually though it's something much more healthy--like being busy with people I love, or having most of my cognitive and creative juices flowing in other directions.

Of late, the explanation is mostly the healthy and "juicy" one.  In a project that is spanning several years, the past several weeks have been heavily scheduled with meetings to work on reviewing the science part of the curriculum for Pilgrim grade school.  The documents are finally ready for review by the school board.

Arlyn is leading the effort, and Harry and Melody and I are assisting him.  Before this project, I've never worked closely with Arlyn and Melody, but I attended college with their two older sisters Sheryl and Jana, and taught for three years with their brother Wendell.  Harry, Wendell and I taught together for three years.  Suffice it to say that our committee's history didn't start yesterday, but includes years of family and school connections.   That helps us get down to nitty-gritty details without first spending a great deal of time in relationship building.  It also allows for some iron sharpening iron activity without the overall effort being derailed.

Hardly anything pleases me more than having interesting and challenging things to think and learn about.  The other three on the committee share that addiction.  Teaching has allowed us to support our habit, and this curriculum review requires that we indulge it.  We probably all fit into the "word wonk" category too, which calls for pummeling each sentence till it takes on exactly the right shape.

Thinking about curriculum matters does not always restore my soul, but this committee's effort does.  It's wonderful to feel free to allow into the light of day ideas that have often had to be "stuffed" because they didn't fit with what I had to do,  or because I couldn't even think where to find common ground in order to start communicating with others about them.  Even now, recalling some of these frustrating times is painful.

Deep inside, I knew they were not stupid ideas.  People far wiser than I have fleshed them out and tested and "proven" them--and written about them. Incorporating these ideas within the confines of a classroom schooling approach is a major undertaking which requires tugging and stretching the typical boundaries into some strange and unfamiliar shapes.  If it actually can be accomplished, I believe something hopeful might emerge in that system .

In formulating the Philosophy and Purpose parts of our documents, what other committee members bring to the table expands and deepens my understanding of God as creator.  I learn more about how man must relate to the creator and to the creation--humbly, yet confidently, always with a heart for serving others.  I see how vast is the number of people who have invested deeply in discovering and documenting and sharing what they've learned, so that others might benefit.  Bringing the students alongside us in these understandings requires also bringing alongside the adults involved--parents, teachers, board members, etc.

If none of it mattered, all of us could certainly find better things to do with our time than ponder things related to science.  We have homes to keep and jobs to perform, and relationships to establish and maintain.  But a right relationship with the creator and the creation does matter, so the effort to consider how to  "do science" well is worthwhile.  

More work needs to happen on science curriculum matters before school starts.  For now, however, a little breathing space has opened up, while others evaluate what has been done so far.  I'm glad for the break, but will be glad to pick up the task again when it's needed.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Reflections

This morning in church I reflected on how many women were missing who used to be part of our gathered group.  They've all transitioned to the afterlife.  Some of them were personal friends, and others were the mother of friends.  As I named them to myself and "seated" them on the rows in front of me, I realized several things:  those people would almost fill three benches, and many of them shared a given name with another church sister.  In our tradition, I'll pair many of them with their husband's name.

First I thought of the Marys:

Enos Mary, Noah Mary, Henry Mary, Freddie Mary, Ervin Mary, and David Mary.  Every one of those had Miller for a surname, except Freddie Mary and Noah Mary, who were Nislys.

Fannies:
Fannie Miller (widow from Kentucky who moved here with family), Mervin Fannie, Eli B. Fannie, and Fannie Viola Nisly

Ednas:
Menno Edna and Harvey Edna

Others:
Ed Lizzie, Ed Laura, Edwin Nellie, Emma Stutzman, Mandy Nisly, Marian Yoder, and Anja Miller

A few of these died several decades ago, but at least three have died in the past year.  Three others died the year before that.

I miss several of these people a great deal.  For every name on the list, however, someone else who misses them deeply faithfully keeps coming to church, no doubt carrying a bit or a lot of sorrow in their heart each time.  Yet there's room for joy in our gathered times too.

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The first "half" of Daniel 11 was our SS lesson for today.  Before it happened, Daniel knew about centuries' worth of events involving Persia, Greece, and the two kingdoms in Syria and Egypt, headed by two of the generals among whom Alexander the Great's kingdom was divided after his death.  (Whew.  Are you still with me?  Afraid not.)

The thing that did not occur to me as I read this prophecy and read about its fulfillment was where Israel was in all of these events.  Our teacher, Rose, pointed this out.  Geographically their land was situated between Egypt and Syria.  Those two kingdoms fought repeatedly, each time raking their armies across Israel, with the victor attempting to rake Israel into its political fold.

Understandably, the nation of Israel wearied of this turmoil.  Some wished, for the sake of peace, to simply acquiesce to whichever power was in charge at the time.  Others, however, held fast to worship of the true God, maintaining allegiance to that King above all others.  Much of the record of these events is found in the Apocrypha.

I was impressed with the parallels present for our time.  Political realities wash over us, and they often do not feel friendly.  Rather than being swept along with whatever tide is rising at the time, we do well to maintain allegiance to God above all.  Personally, I feel that is best done by not associating ourselves with any political party.

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The Supreme Court decision interpreting the Constitution to allow the term "marriage" to mean almost anything at all is a disappointment to all who love God's laws as revealed in Scripture.  I don't have much to say on this topic.  I do appreciate some of what others have said, and will link to some of what I consider good words on the topic.

This one is by John Piper.  His tone is somber, and his heart is pained for the reaping that must follow.

Several other writings speak of what I have often referred to--the incongruity of Christians assuming that the state can be made to honor Christian principles by the exerting of "force" from Christians.  Although neither of the following links expresses my thoughts exactly, they contain much truth, in my opinion.

Here is one written by someone from England, as he observes and evaluates America.  Here is another--this one with more advocacy for retreat and seclusion than I idealize.  The element I affirm in each of these writings is that church and state should not be wedded to each other, and Christians have often acted foolishly in trying to walk hand in hand with the state--when some of its elements have looked appealing.  The ruling by the Supreme Court is a forceful reminder that the two institutions are basically incompatible, and we do well to live as though we believed that.  We are perhaps entering an era when no other option will allow us to maintain our identity as Christians.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Political Havoc and Private Opinions

I read a little blurb today summarizing the pope's encyclical on climate change.  He said people have a moral obligation to do what they can to mitigate climate change, because there is very consistent scientific consensus that global warming is caused above all by human activity.  (Some phrases are direct quotes from The Week, June 26, 2015, p. 6.)  He also sees an urgent and compelling need to reduce greenhouse gases and develop sources of renewable energy.

Reading this makes me smile because of the masterful way the position of the Catholic church plays havoc with what many conservatives see as Christian viewpoints.  When Catholics talk about sanctity of life and traditional marriage, they're on the conservative Christian side.  But this encyclical?  Liberal for sure.  Helping the poor through social programs?  Bleeding heart liberal again.  How can they do this?

In my estimation, this is simply how it always is when Christian people put loyalty to the word of God and the way of Christ above political loyalties.  They're not really at home in any political party.  And no political party will be able to claim Christians as their own "trophies" because Christians will end up breaking rank sooner or later if the way of Christ comes first.

To label one party as a distinctly Christian party reveals a serious misunderstanding of both political and spiritual realities.

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In other news, someone called again this morning from the Japanese TV station that wants to do a story on Hiromi, the "Japanese Amishman."  He talked English to me, but the conversation switched to Japanese as soon as I handed the phone to Hiromi.  Hiromi asked him to send an email about what he proposes--his way of being non-committal, and insuring that he's not held up on the phone tomorrow morning when he wants to work outside before it gets unbearably hot.

I'm praying about the proposal and keeping my opinions to myself otherwise for now about whether this is a good idea or not.




Monday, June 22, 2015

Good Communication

First, I'll repeat here something I wrote this morning in a comment on a friend's Facebook post (with minor editing).  Then I'll follow it with comments in addition to the original writings.

The original post I responded to lamented the inability of some people to disagree without feeling threatened, or even to listen well and learn from disparate views.  One person who commented made it clear that he disliked disagreements on Facebook because of how it made reading non-verbal signals impossible.  He left all discussions the minute he sensed an argument brewing.  My writing was a reply to this commenter's viewpoint, but related also to the original post.

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________________, I don't know you, and from what you write here, I think I'd find you easy to converse with. Your perspective has validity. Non-verbal communication is important and often helpful. I do, however, have a bit of a beef with the idea that in-person discussions are always far superior to in-writing discussions. I hear this often, but it's not always been my experience. 

In writing, I have a lot more time to think ahead about what I'm "saying" than in a personal conversation. I can organize it to make it understandable. I can edit it to make it less offensive. I can swap out words to make sure that they are easiest for others to understand--if not necessarily the first words that come to my mind. 

For me, perhaps one of the biggest benefits is that what was "said" is document-able. I've suffered in the past from more-powerful-people-than-I saying "you said . . . " --things I can't believe I said, because that's not how I felt. I can only assume that I conveyed something erroneous unintentionally, or they misunderstood my words. It's the powerful person's perception that stands, however, if the conversation is ever recounted by the other person. 

If others in a conversation sense feeling in my words, they sometimes assign labels to those feelings that are very different from the ones I would use. What they see as anger, for example, might be my desperate efforts to keep from dissolving in tears of hopelessness and grief. In writing, anyone can see what I "said," minus the interpretations of other "listeners."

While writing takes more time than talking--for the writer, it takes less time for the reader than a spoken conversation. I like that about something I wish to communicate. In writing, I can do it at my time expense--without demanding time in the other person's schedule to hear me out. They can read my writing at their convenience.

Perhaps only in ___________'s online "living room" would your and my contributions to this conversation even be possible. Since it is someone else's living room, however, and not mine, I apologize for taking up this much space for this long, and I will try to exit gracefully now.

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I note that the apostle Paul made much use of written communication, even on sensitive and personal matters.  Some of the time he did not have the option of personal communication--when he was in prison, for example.  At other times,  he must have done it for efficiency's sake--when he wanted to communicate the same things to people who were geographically scattered.  Although it's hard to imagine that Paul had any idea that his words would still be known and cherished almost two centuries after he wrote them, he may have idealized his words having more permanence than if they had simply been uttered verbally.

One of God's primary ways of communicating with us is through the written word.

I've learned a lot from hearing about the communication difficulties that people with Asperger's Syndrome face.  These people blend far more easily into a crowd than do people who have autism, a condition on the same spectrum as Asperger's, but they have significant challenges nonetheless.  For them, non-verbal cues in conversation are entirely unintelligible, unless their awareness has been intentionally and painstakingly developed.  I can identify with some of that difficulty.

I think some of the teaching we've heard in recent years about the importance of face to face communication and the inferiority of written communication is yet another unfortunate Bill Gothard legacy.  From his bully pulpit we heard scriptures freighted with personal elaborations that gave face to face communication out-sized importance. That he personally failed miserably to heed the concerns of people who approached him personally--to his great detriment, and the detriment of many who trusted him--adds no credibility to his particular spin on the matter.

In spite of what may seem to be my downplaying the importance of face to face communication, I can think of only a very few circumstances under which I would choose not to participate in a verbal discussion or conversation if invited to do so.  Part of the reason for that is simple courtesy.  Not everyone finds written communication easy.  For them, it's likely as hazard-prone as I view face to face communication to be.  It's fair for me to accommodate their preference when possible.  I can think,  however, of times when refusal to talk makes some sense.

With only a few exceptions (I have to feel very safe) I refuse to talk to a man about a disagreement without Hiromi also in on the conversation.  Even then, I won't likely do it if no one else is close by.  Written communication takes away much of the awkwardness of communicating across gender lines.

Hiromi has been known to refuse to meet for a conversation on sensitive issues because he knows his English-as-a-second-language limitations almost guarantee that he will miss a lot of what goes on, and he will find it impossible to express himself clearly.   He prefers written communication for this reason.

Maybe we would all do well to appreciate efforts to communicate honestly, kindly, and constructively, without becoming unduly opinionated about how it happens.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Confessions for Others' Sins

I've added something at the end--6/22/2015.

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We're studying the book of Daniel in Sunday School right now, and just recently were assigned chapter nine, where Daniel confesses to God the wrongdoings of the people of Israel.  Thirty-two times in that chapter, he identifies with the sins of the people, despite the fact that he personally was not guilty of most of them.

In reading that prayer of confession, I was awed at Daniel's humility.  I had never considered the possibility that being the public confessor for a group is part of the job description of a leader, or perhaps for any single member of the group.  I'm still not quite sure about all the implications of this.

Daniel knew about the prophecy of impending deliverance for God's people, by way of an end to captivity.  Yet, as he surveyed the situation, he realized that the people were no more ready for deliverance than they were at the beginning of their captivity, because they had not yet repented and turned to God.

Apparently Daniel did not beg the people directly to repent.  Instead he acknowledged the truth of how things were, sought God's forgiveness, and begged for mercy.  God heard his prayer and sent his messenger Michael to tell Daniel that his prayer had been heard and God was already acting to answer the prayer.  This tells me that Daniel's prayer was appropriate, and did, in fact, move the hand of God.

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I am no leader--certainly not a political leader, but I feel like as a citizen of the state of Kansas, I should perhaps be confessing that we in this state have behaved shamefully.  I'm glad if you haven't heard of the fiasco involving our budget and tax situation, but if you have, and wonder what on earth people were thinking, I want to let you know that many people here are figuratively wearing sackcloth and ashes.  One legislator dissolved publicly in tears as he tried to apologize for what had happened.

I'll spare you many of the details, but anyone could tell something was amiss when the regular legislative session went on and on and on--till 23 days of overtime had accumulated, for a salary cost to the state of about $900,000.00.  It was the longest legislative session in Kansas history.

Lawmakers had to stay until a budget had been approved and fully funded as the law requires, or, as of July 1, the state would no longer have been able to pay any of its employees, pay its bills, or provide its services. Furthermore, the governor had made it clear that he would veto any budget and tax bill of which he did not approve, and if a bill did not reach him before the end of the day last Friday, on Monday he would initiate funding cuts in all departments to insure that the state could continue to function without the $400 million that was still needed to balance the budget.

With a massive shortfall in the state treasury (following a surplus when the present governor came into office), either taxes needed to increase or the budget needed massive cuts.  A tea party majority in the legislature could not bring themselves to do either one.  One called for breaking a promise and the other looked like political suicide.  And so they dithered--until 4:00 AM last Saturday morning.

Part of the backstory is that some legislators were elected in a wave of tea party fervor on the strength of promises that they would never vote in support of any new taxes.  In 2012, under the present administration, in a rammed-through, somewhat underhanded way, the state income tax had been abolished on both individuals and businesses.  The theory was that if people and businesses could keep more of their earnings, it would be a huge stimulus to the economy, and this increase in economic activity would somehow result in more money in state coffers.  Part of this was to come from people having increased purchasing power, which would result in additional sales tax revenue flooding into the state treasury.  The theory is known as supply-side economics.

Tax cuts are always popular with people, and it seemed like a good deal--till it didn't. The results didn't develop as advertised.  The economy did not roar to life, and the sales tax revenue didn't increase by any appreciable amount.   The long and short of it was that the tax cuts resulted in a major state revenue shortfall.  People who know about such things declared that it was inevitable, since income tax, one of the three "legs" that provided state revenue, was cut off--the other two being sales tax and property tax.

What to do?

Legislators and common folk began to see that many cherished government services (like funding for good roads and schools and hospitals) would not survive the governor's threatened budget cuts unscathed, and the people would not look kindly on the legislators on whose watch these cuts occurred.  Thus the political suicide specter.  But there was also the specter for some of having to renege on those earlier promises if these cuts were to be avoided.  Enough bitter pills were being manufactured in that cauldron of misery for every legislator to swallow a massive dose.  And so they did.

What they decided to do was to raise the sales tax rate across the board, and increase some "sin" taxes by massive amounts--50 cents tax increase on the purchase of a pack of cigarettes, for example.  This means that, in the city of Hutchinson, where most of us do our shopping, the combined special taxes, city, county, and state tax on purchases will be as high as 10.1% (at the Hutchinson mall).  In other words (unless you're buying cigarettes, in which case one pack will cost more than a dollar in taxes), if you make a $10.00 purchase at the mall, you will pay $11.01 at the cash register.  At 6.5 per cent, the overall state sales tax rate is the second highest rate in the nation.  It was a plan the governor would not veto, since his prized "no income tax" initiative was preserved.

The cause of a great outcry, and the sackcloth and ashes response, however, is the fact that these elevated sales taxes apply also to food, as they have in Kansas historically.  In most states that is not the case.  Only Mississippi charges a higher tax rate on food than Kansas.  It is for this reason that lower-income people are said to be bearing the brunt of our state's tax policy.  A large portion of their income must be spent on food and other necessities, on which they pay a high tax rate.  It's true, of course, that their income isn't taxed either, but in many cases it was too little anyway to put them even into the lowest of income tax brackets.

The already-wealthy are said to benefit because their already-high income is not taxed at all, per se, and this formerly significant revenue stream for the state has run dry.  The amount the wealthy need to spend for food is only a small portion of the whole of their income, so the great majority of their sales-taxable spending can be assumed to be for nonessential items.

It's more complicated than I'm able to explain here, and I don't claim to know what is best overall.  This I regret, though:

1.  Lack of foresight on the part of some state leaders
2.  Lack of enough humility in some state leaders to say "I'm sorry.  I was wrong.  I will do all in my power to correct the problem in an equitable, compassionate way."

No confession of sin (or even errors in judgement, simple mistakes, etc.) on the part of the most responsible leaders seems to be forthcoming.  For them, I apologize, beg forgiveness and plead for God's mercy.

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Added later:

The Week magazine (June 26, 2015, page 5) gave this story space on their single page that gives the U.S. News at a glance.  It was one of only six stories.  Their assessment did not enhance the image of Kansas.  They noted that the governor insisted that taxes were not increased, and that in totality the average person's tax rate has fallen since 2012.  Here are some excerpts from the short news article:

"GOP lawmakers in Kansas have approved the largest tax increase in the state's history in an effort to close a $400 million budget deficit.  . . . an analysis from Washington's nonpartisan Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy showed that the poorest 20 percent of Kansans will now pay 1.5 percent more in taxes than in 2012, while the wealthiest 1 percent will pay 1.9 percent less."  The last statement directly counters the governor's claim.