Prairie View

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Politics According to Schinstock, Gerson, and Hank the Cowdog

It's a good day when both Jim Schinstock's and Michael Gerson's common-sense columns appear on the editorial page, as they did today.  Schinstock is a retired philosophy professor, now turned community columnist for the Hutchinson News.  Michael Gerson is a columnist who was once a speechwriter for George W. Bush and is now associated with the Washington Post.

Schinstock made fairly limited references to politics, noting that more heat than light is being generated on that front right now, and "More heat isn't what I want to experience right now."  He noted further that he sees nothing ahead but "stifling, searing, sweaty, soul-shriveling heat."

Gerson's column is titled "Republicans Have Ceded the Ground on Faith."  He notes that the Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine is variously described by his Republican Senate colleagues as "very bright, genuinely nice, unfailingly courteous and positive, faith-oriented, and a deeply spiritual guy."  He also states that "Trump has cut the party off from its religious, ethical and moral moorings.  He appeals almost exclusively to anger at perceived wrongs and to feelings of economic distress."  In summary, Gerson says that he feels "moved and saddened, since the GOP nominee for president has so intentionally abandoned the ideals behind them.  It is one of the great tragedies of 2016 . . . that Republicans have ceded the ground of faith without a fight."

As an onlooker offering occasional comments on the political scene, I've begun feeling a bit of optimism on one front in this election cycle:  a few Christians who have long placed far more stock in political solutions and active involvement than is warranted have reconsidered those solutions and their involvement.  This is particularly true of some Republicans whose party loyalists actually should never have claimed that they occupy the only high moral ground in politics.  While in a few areas the party's policy did align with Christian principles, that was certainly never the pervasive condition (which could also be said of the Democratic party), and Christians who accepted the Republican package as a Christian one were seriously misguided.  The current presidential nominee has made it abundantly clear that being identified as a Republican can happen with Christian or even moral constraints nowhere in evidence. Rational thinking, careful crafting of policy and civil discourse can be absent as well under the Republican banner.  Some thoughtful Christians have been jerked to attention by these developments and have disassociated themselves from party involvement--at least in the presidential election.

Some have gone so far as to state that prayer is the most powerful force that can be exercised in a political contest, in contrast to earlier impassioned pleas for Christians to vote for the "right" candidate.  Amen.  This change gives me hope.

I believe that politics has never been a good fit for Christians.  Disappointed Republicans (or Democrats) would do well to turn their disappointment in 2016 into a permanent repudiation of involvement in partisan politics.  Merely searching for and gathering under a better political label won't do.  Libertarianism is not to be confused with Christian liberty.  The only trustworthy place to gather is under the banner of the Lordship of Christ and God's Sovereignty.

A long time ago our boys used to listen to Hank the Cowdog stories on tape from the library.  One habit of Hank's comes to mind as a parallel to some of what I see happening in politics.  Hank fancied himself to be clever and sophisticated, but his habits betrayed him. He loved to drink from, play in and cool off in a very small body of water on the Texas ranch he called home--the lagoon.  Politics is more like a lagoon than a place where Christian people should play and drink, and can come away from refreshed.  People who immerse themselves there may be as deluded as Hank.  

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Barney Story

Is anyone up for a Barney story?  Barney is our dog.  He's a mutt, the offspring of Shane's Corgi and the neighbor's Blue Heeler.  We got him last fall when he was several months old.  Aside from a ridiculous obsession with chasing airborne birds and jumping up too often, his main offense so far was that he did a disappearing act several weeks ago.  He returned after several days, looking innocent and offering no explanation.

Last Thursday a week ago Hiromi saw Barney and Buck, Grant's dog we're babysitting right now, on their way to Partridge.  Hiromi told them to go home, but did not do so himself, proceeding on to the post office as he had set out to do.  The dogs were nowhere to be found when he headed home.  Driving around on the nearby country roads revealed Buck, who soon came home.  Barney didn't.

I prayed about the Barney matter, but didn't know what else to do.  When Doris Nisly stopped in I told her that Barney had disappeared.  Since they own a sibling of Barney's they're very aware of what our dog looks like (almost exactly like theirs) and have often seen him here before.

On Friday evening, over a week after Barney disappeared, Elaine Y. from Partridge saw the dog owned by Doris' family and exclaimed over how much that dog looked like one that had been hanging out at their place earlier for several days.  On the Saturday before, she and Mae Y. had taken him to the animal shelter.  Doris told Elaine that she thinks the dog at their place must have been our dog.  The next day Doris called us to tell us about what she learned of Barney's whereabouts.  She also knew that they would hold him for three days to see if the owner came forward.  After that he would be put up for adoption.  The three days were up three days before we knew any of this.

I called Elaine to check on a few details--the color of his collar, the time he appeared there, etc. to satisfy myself that it was indeed Barney.  It was.

On her own initiative, Mae called the shelter to see if she could reclaim Barney for us.  The news was not good.  Someone had already made a down payment on his $150.00 adoption fee.  Before they could have him, however, he would have to be neutered and they would have to pay the entire amount.  Mae was told that if we came forward immediately, showed a picture of Barney, and paid the full adoption fee, we had first chance at the dog.  The neutering requirement still applied because he had become city property three days after he was admitted to the shelter.

I looked desperately for a picture, not sure that I had ever taken one.  But there it was.  He was sprawled out with Buck in the backyard another time when we were babysitting Buck.  I was grateful that Joel had showed me how to download pictures from the camera to the computer the week before.  I printed the picture on plain paper.

Hiromi and I talked.  At first he wasn't sure that it was worth paying all that money for a dog that wouldn't stay home anyway.  "Let them have him," he suggested.  I pointed out that all it would have taken for Barney to be returned to us promptly was having a tag on his collar that listed our phone number.  Kathy T. had told us that such tags can be custom-created at Petco, but Hiromi had not taken time to stop by and I had not gone to town yet to get that done.  I also said that it's possible that he would be less likely to roam if he were neutered.  Furthermore, this dog got along well with the cat and left the chickens alone, which was a lot better behavior than some dogs we've had in the past.  He was a good size--not so big that he eats huge amounts, and he had learned some of the things we had tried to teach him.  I really didn't wish to start over with a digging dog and puppyish behavior.  Hiromi listened and then suggested that I call the shelter and get some more information.

One other piece of the story is that we had made an appointment with the vet to get Barney's shots, and had to cancel the Wednesday's appointment after he disappeared.  I asked Anastasia who answered the phone at the shelter what all was covered in the $150.00 fee besides the cost of the neutering surgery, which had already been scheduled for today, Monday (I suspect this would not have been the case if adoption procedures had not already been started).  She rattled off a list of vaccinations, including the ones Hiromi was sure he would have had to pay for if he had taken him to the vet.  He would also be microchipped.  Hiromi was listening on the speaker phone and smiling and nodding his head by this time.  He was not willing to make the trip himself however, to fill out an adoption application at the animal shelter.  "Too much to do here at home."

So I trundled in there, checkbook in hand.  I mentioned my intention to buy tags for Barney's collar on the same trip.  "Oh," said Anastasia, "we provide these."  She showed me tags exactly like the ones I visualized buying.  She wanted to know his name.  Twisk was what they had named him, but she changed it in their files.  She also wondered what breed he was.  They had guessed Corgi and German Shepherd.  She said several times that he was a really sweet dog.  Then she asked if I wanted to see Barney.  I did!

Barney was overjoyed as was I.  I told him he was coming home and that he should never do such a naughty thing again as to run away.  I hoped he had learned his lesson.  I sat down and he put his front paws in my lap and I didn't scold him.  I had him practice the "sit" command, and he finally remembered what to do.  When I left the visiting room he tried his best to sneak out the door with me.  I had to shut the door in his face and felt really mean for doing so.

I'm so very grateful that God took care of Barney and that he's coming back  on Wednesday all fixed up for what should be a long and good life together.  We would have had a hard time deciding to arrange and pay for all those things that are being done to and for Barney, but these things may well be exactly what makes having a dog manageable for us.  We haven't gone to the work of comparing costs, but we might even be ahead financially over having taken Barney to the vet when we planned to.  Don't try this at home though.  I think making it all work out alright must be a God-sized job.  I know I couldn't have managed it.


The Patriot

I’m blaming a Facebook link to an article that I didn’t even read for “forcing” me to write this post.  It had side-by-side pictures of Michelle Obama and Melania Trump.  The blurb below the pictures said Melania Trump’s Big Difference from Michelle Obama:  American Pride.  The writer, Breitbach, obviously considers Melania to show superiority on the American Pride rating scale. 

Before that, during my morning Bible reading in Nehemiah and in three reference books following I thought a lot about patriotism and nationalism.  One of the reference books described Nehemiah as a patriot.  I don’t have any quibbles with that characterization.  He was serving God by serving the people God had called to be his representatives on earth during the Old Testament era.  Those people happened to be part of one nation.  What I do have a quibble with is taking a giant leap from Nehemiah's day to 2016 and assuming that patriotism is evidence of godliness, that American pride is a great virtue, or that at the very least it is evidence of being on the right side of political speech making in a presidential election convention. 

Christians who are excessively nationalistic (a synonym for patriotic) are stuck in Old Testament patterns.  Jesus, in the New Testament calls for loyalties not defined by national boundaries.  The people of God live in many places.  Some of them live in America, but most do not.  Being loyal to God and to the people of God calls for placing loyalty to any country in a lesser position. 

The New Testament standard calls for all to unite under the standard of salvation through Jesus.  When His life transforms from within, it becomes possible to live as we are instructed to live:  love your neighbors and your enemies, give to the poor, forgive those who wrong you, welcome the stranger, honor your rulers and pray for them, be humble, be honest, pay your debts, be faithful to your spouse, provide for and train your children, don’t commit adultery, love God with all your heart, be kind.  “Be patriotic” is not included.

In the current election cycle, I see very few of the above Christian graces in evidence in the major candidates—certainly nothing that compels me to go to any pains to sing their praises or further their agendas.  I think doing so makes far too little of what pleases our Heavenly Father.  The opposite is problematic too—lobbing one rude, critical salvo after another in the direction of any candidate.  This is not the way of Christ either.  Seldom has it been as obvious as this year that Christians do well to advance on their knees rather than joining the political fracas.  The din out there is deafening, and withdrawing from it makes it easier to hear the voice of the Father. 


After having studied and taught through the first seven chapters of Nehemiah, I have made 70 observations about Nehemiah under the heading “Nehemiah Models Effective Godly Leadership.” If God works a miracle, maybe someday such a list can be made with the name of America’s next president substituting for Nehemiah.  Right now I’d settle for five by the end of the week.  It’s time to get back to praying, my duty to the people of God everywhere.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Nature: Its Healing Power

Time printed a succinct article on the benefits of being in a natural environment ("The Healing Power of Nature" by Alexandra Sifferlin, July 14, 2016 ).  It both affirmed and expanded my understanding of this important truth.  For the benefit of those who need an even more abbreviated version than is present in the original article, or to whet your appetite I’ll repeat the main points here.  Every claim made is followed by supportive research.  I’m sorry that I can’t link to the article.  It’s worth your time to look it up.  Right now only subscribers to Time can access the online version.

1.       It can lower blood pressure.  Fresh air and the natural fragrance of trees may be the most important influences on blood pressure.

2.       Exposure to it can increase awe.  This can affect behavior positively and reduce the levels of inflammatory compounds in the body.

3.        It promotes cancer fighting cells.  Natural killer cells increase in number after a person walks through a forest.

4.       It can help with depression and anxiety.  The mechanism is not clear, but the effect is well-known.  High levels of negative ions in natural areas may be involved.

5.       It may help with ADHD symptoms.  Children who were diagnosed with ADHD took 20-minute walks in three different environments, a park, a neighborhood, and an urban area.  After the walk in the park, the children could concentrate better than after walking in other areas.

6.       Even fake nature has benefits.  Nature images, sounds, and smells, can reduce stress, improve attention, and promote physical healing.  Patients in hospital rooms with a view of trees heal faster than those without such a view.

One of the uncertainties about the next school year is where at school my home base will be.  Since the school moved during my sabbatical, I’ve never staked out a spot in the new location or had one assigned to me.  I have a strong preference for a place that offers window views, preferably of something other than brick walls, concrete, metal fences, playground equipment or bare dirt.  Obviously I can’t stay glued to one spot all day in any case, so perhaps even a hemmed-in location could be partially redeemed by frequent trips away from it.  I presume that’s how the high school students survive, since their home base has windows so high that only the sky is visible through them. 

Being at home more during the past year has revealed how hungrily I consume what I can see of the natural environment.  Abundant rainfall during most of the growing season has created lushness that we don’t always see in a Kansas summer, and I’m so very grateful for this blessing.  With this nature craving so amply supplied, my sense of optimism and well-being sky-rockets, and I can hardly bear to think of doing without all day every day.  True, the drive to and from school offers a tiny slice of observation time, but most of that drive happens at 65 miles per hour, which demands more attention to driving than observing nature.  If only I could soak it up throughout the day—while I’m doing my job.  I wish the same for the students. 

Working on the grant application to OWLS (Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site) stokes my dreams of how natural spaces can be created within the confines of the school grounds.  Fortunately, with the offer of a generous amount of money from OWLS comes also a generous offering of advice and help for how this can be accomplished.  It’s a good thing since the application process is sufficiently daunting that only a substantial reward could keep me energized for the task.  Money.  That and lots of sweat equity are the other necessities for creating a natural environment in an area where most of the natural elements have been removed or forcibly altered by mowing, spraying or other such interventions. 


Time helped us all by offering information discovered by researchers.  Information like this is the raw material of dreams.  If knowledge and dreams can be followed by time investment, plans, money, and work, and a healing natural environment can eventually be created on the school grounds, I believe hundreds of people will eventually benefit, even in ways no one has yet anticipated.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

Stories About Hiromi: High School and Beyond

One of my sons has asked me several times to write down what I know of Hiromi's life in Japan.  I decided that one of the most likely ways I would accomplish this is to write it in pieces here.  My idea is to use the "Stories About Hiromi" title for all of them, with some clarifying subtitle.  I would hope to collect them all eventually in an easy-to-read format.

Our youngest son Grant did write Hiromi's story for a high school composition class community writing project, and I'm not sure that I can add a lot to that--only a few details perhaps.  Often I learn these details at unexpected moments in the course of living life with Hiromi, when something jogs a memory that he shares with me.

Such an event occurred within the past few days when Hiromi got word by email of a reunion planned for his high school (Nishitagawa) graduating class, an event that occurred 50 years ago.  The organizer of the reunion  Hirano*, posted word that a classmate, Masamoto, who now lives in Indiana plans to attend, along with his wife Harumi Masamoto who was also a classmate.  I could tell Hiromi was wistful about this when he got the email, and I asked if he wants to attend too.  He didn't answer directly, but began right away to think about how he might be able to manage to do so.

On the day after the class reunion, a whole-school reunion is planned to celebrate the 100th year of the school's existence.  This is a special bonus, for reasons which I will explain later.  His slightly atypical route through high school is part of the picture.

I realized that at the ages of about 69-71, many of his classmates are still alive and able to enjoy reconnecting, but this will not likely be the case for many more years. Furthermore, travel is still relatively easy for Hiromi now, but will not be so indefinitely.

Hiromi has never attended a class reunion since he left Japan in 1971, forty-five years ago.  He has returned to Japan only twice, the last time in 2001, 15 years ago.  At that time, Joel accompanied him.  He was 18.

Shane and Dorcas visited in Japan about six years ago, and were able to see Hiromi's mother and other relatives.  Hiromi's mother has died since then--at the age of 96, in 2011, around July 4.  Only Grant has never visited Japan.  I wish very  much that he could accompany Hiromi on this trip.

The class reunion Hiromi will attend is for a class of about 50 students.  Hiromi explained to me how it is that, even though the entire senior class consisted of 350 students, he identifies only about 50 as being in his class.  What I learned from him is that the big group was divided each year into seven smaller groups of 50 each.  Those 50 had identical schedules throughout high school except for a few electives.  They stayed almost all day in the same classroom (their homeroom), and the teachers rotated in and out of the room, staying only long enough to teach the subject they were responsible for.  Chemistry class was an exception and always took place in the school lab.

The seven smaller student groups were formed on the basis of similar entrance test scores.  Each year there were small shifts as students near the cut-off  lines either advanced slightly above it or dropped slightly below it.  Depending on the previous year's placement, a student might either fall back to the level below or advance to the level above.  That's why Hiromi's graduating class was not precisely the same as the class he was with throughout all of high school.

*******************

Hiromi spent all his high school years in group seven, the highest achieving group.  This group was considered the most likely to gain the coveted entrance to the national universities which were the least expensive and had the most competitive entrance requirements.

"But you never went to a public university.  Why was that?" I asked Hiromi.

Hiromi had a little trouble answering, but he indicated that he thinks it was because he wasn't  sure what he wanted to do with his life.

Earlier, things had been clear.  At the age of 15, at the end of his last year in junior high school, Hiromi had gone off to attend a military training school.  That privilege was granted him as a result of passing a rigorous written test--as also did 99 other similarly-aged students in the country.  Eventually he hoped to become a pilot for the military.  That dream died when a physical exam revealed a deviated septum, which might have compromised his ability to breathe easily at high altitudes.  He voluntarily left the military school and returned home.

Regrettably, when he got home, he could not simply join the same class he had left earlier.  Instead he had to join a class two years younger, since he had not been present at his home high school for two years, and the credits he earned couldn't be transferred.  The class he was with for three years is the class that is having their 50th year reunion.  If Hiromi could not also attend the 100-year celebration, he would be unlikely to see any of the students in his class through grade nine.  This second reunion is a big bonus for visiting Japan now.

After high school Hiromi's wish to go to Bhuddist "monk school" was vetoed by his father and brother, who pointed out that he could never earn a living that way.  Then he turned his attention toward technical school, since that seemed to hold promise of being able to earn a decent living.  He hoped that his father might eventually be able to help him enough financially to open up an electronics store.

That dream died too when his father died at the age of 53, shortly after Hiromi had finished school and began working in an electronics store.

One more decisive re-direction awaited.  This one came through observing the experience of Hiromi's co-worker for Miyaharadenki, an electrical contractor.  He was a well-liked young man who had a dream of immigrating to either Canada or Brazil.  In preparation, he worked very hard to learn English and Spanish, but the process was not easy for him, and he made slow progress.  Likely he didn't consider the US as a destination since there was almost no chance that he could get permission to immigrate.

The most highly preferred category for immigration to the US was people who had some knowledge or skill that was in high demand in the US job market.  The next most highly preferred were those who already had family members living in the US.  Hiromi fell in the second category since his sister had married an American soldier stationed in Japan in 1954.  Hiromi realized that he had a ready-made highly coveted advantage on several fronts.  Not only had he gone farther than most in learning English, he was very likely to gain permission to immigrate because he was in a preferred category.

In addition, Hiromi saw that if he stayed in Japan he would likely either be consigned to stay in the same company "forever" or risk having to start from the bottom in a different job.  Furthermore, the best way to advance within a company was to do something Hiromi is highly allergic to--acting obsequious in order to curry favor.  "Brown-nosing" is the crude term he used.  "Not my style at all," he said of this necessity in Japanese society.

Immigrating to the US began to look like a better option than ever, and Hiromi set about making preparations to do so.

 *Most adults are called only by their last names.


Saturday, July 09, 2016

Ears to Hear

I started writing the post below before reading about the recent deaths of several black citizens who were killed by law enforcement officers, and five Dallas police officers who died in the line of duty.  In a Facebook conversation initiated by my friend Rosanna on this topic, I read the pain of a black woman who is very afraid for her loved ones and family members.  I read also the words of an ex-Mennonite who appeared to be defensive, accusing and unsympathetic.  My friend struck exactly the right tone by recognizing her privileged status and by reiterating her desire to simply acknowledge injustice wherever she sees it, without vilifying any individual or group of people, and to sorrow with those who grieve.

With my head full of unrelated matters, I saw in Rosanna's Facebook thread how several related truths apply to both the old information and the new information inside my head:

1.  It's always right to notice, to care, and to speak truth (be a witness) when people are suffering wrong at the hands of others.  

2.  Those in privileged positions in such circumstances especially have a duty to act on behalf of those who are powerless.

3.  Those who are privileged must acknowledge their privilege and guard against the temptations inherent in that privilege.

Privilege means "a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people."  (Google)  Privilege can take on many forms.  It can be as simple as having a ready-made forum when others must go to great effort to be heard.  It can be having decision-making power for a group.  It can be wealth.  It can be respect from others because of office.  It can be saying something without anyone questioning the wisdom of it or the right to say it.  It can be physical or mental prowess or superior firepower or other force.

A good guide for how privilege should be used is to be scrupulous in evaluating whether it is being employed in the interest of others or in private interests.  Private often means selfish and should usually be resisted.

********************

In a flash of insight from a surprising source, I learned something recently about gender perceptions and relationships in American society.  Although some caveats apply, I believe the same dynamics are present in some measure in the subset of society in which I live.

Time recently carried an article in which the writer had interviewed about 24 people who had gone through the motions of switching genders from female to male.  The reverse crossover is often far more obvious.  This means that trans men can usually move into their new identity without being identified as trans.  Like undercover agents, they can observe and absorb the behavior of others without the burden of a "stranger" identity that might affect other people's actions around them.  You can read the entire Time article here.  I found it revealing and disturbing in the same way that reading Black Like Me was disturbing.

It's not considered classy to say out loud that one has been a victim of anything.  Inviting pity is pathetic behavior.  We're taught to examine our own conduct in order to "fess up" to whatever ways in which we share guilt in any negative outcome.  We ought to be able to rise above any injustice done to us, searching for God's purposes toward us in the matter.  In fact we ought to be so strong that we hardly  notice injustices directed toward us.  We ought to agree with Scripture when it addresses gender roles.  All true.  All good.  But not the whole truth.  In the elusive space labeled "whole truth" lurks a plethora of land mines, any one of which can trigger an explosion when stepped on.  And yet, if the truth is to make us free, we must be willing to embrace the challenge of discovering it and living it.

So what am I doing here?  Moving gingerly.  That's what.

 In the article, the preponderance of testimony is on the side of acknowledging that women are often victims, as these "new males" learn only after they live as men and see and hear how women are regarded and treated by men.  With the fresh memory of what they experienced earlier as women, they are dismayed by this.

James Ward, a lawyer, said it this way in Time:  "If I'm going off the cuff, no one really questions it.  It's taken as 'He's saying it, so it must be true,'  While I was practicing as female, it was 'Show me your authority.  You don't know any better yet."

To transgender individuals who have transitioned from male to female, the opposite phenomenon occurs.  Things run smoothly with a male identity, but very laboriously as a female.  Joan Roughgarden says that when she wrote for professional journals as a male, "it would be almost automatically accepted.  But after I transitioned, papers were running into more trouble, grant proposals were running into more trouble, the whole thing was getting more difficult."  She concludes with this:  "As a man, you're assumed to be competent unless proven otherwise.  Whereas as a woman, you're presumed to be incompetent unless proven otherwise."

Some of my own experiences are validated by the observations of these new males.  Very recently I've had fresh reminders of such experiences in the past, and I am pained by the reminders.  I hope that speaking up spares others similar experiences.

I can point to multiple times when I have waited to weigh in till I have prayed a lot, researched a lot, and yes, cried a lot, and then relied heavily on the words or work of authorities to put forward an idea.  It's usually to men because it's almost always men who are in charge of what gets done in a group.  When I have done this, I have experienced at times all of these negative responses:

1.  Dead silence.  It's as though no one had said anything at all.
2.  Disparagement.  I hear in a roundabout way that someone I communicated with thinks the idea was stupid.  No communication with me though, no evidence of the response having been research-based or prayer-based, and certainly no counter-arguments by citing other reputable sources.
3.  Active interference.  In one case, after an editor had accepted my article for publication and had written a supporting editorial on the same topic, others asked the editor to refrain from publishing subsequent pieces from me on the same topic.  They had already been written, submitted and accepted but they never saw the light of day.  Neither did the supportive editorial.
4.  Clear preference given to a male viewpoint.  Very recently, a man has written on the same topic for the same publication, taking an opposing view.  It is approved for publication without an apparent hitch.  To add insult to injury, I've communicated directly by email with the writer previous to the most recent writing.  No answer.  No acknowledgement.  Nothing. Only a public restatement of his original position.

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Before leaving this topic, I want to give credit to most of the men I am or have been most directly responsible to for not acting in the ways I've listed above.

My father, David L. Miller, was first to show me a different way.  In speaking and writing he was my first example and encourager.  I never heard from him that certain topics and viewpoints were off-limits to me because of my gender.  He spoke and wrote fearlessly, often in defense of those who were marginalized.  I knew he believed it was acceptable for me to do the same.

My husband, Hiromi,  went even farther than my father ever had in defending me and my viewpoint to others.  In a particularly challenging time several decades ago, I heard him say to a male critic:  "Education is her field, and I respect her research."

The male teachers and principals I have worked with over the past 15 years were outstanding:  Harry Shenk, Wendell Nisly, Andrew Schmucker, Wesley Schrock, and Arlyn Nisly.

Two of our ministers also deserve mention for how they have guided and encouraged me in the past:  LaVerne Miller and Oren Yoder.    I can say that also in some measure about the rest of our ministers.

I am grateful to my sons Joel, Shane, and Grant for their affirmation and love.  They observe wryly that speaking up sometimes gets me into trouble, but they say they have learned from it how to behave with courage and care in leadership roles they have been called to fill as adults.

I can think of several church brothers who have interacted fairly with me directly when there were differences.  In these cases, I felt respected and taken seriously, even though some of the differences remained.  I feel the same way about the brothers in my parental family.

If I were to list the privileges I've enjoyed, the above favors should appear on the list.

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In keeping with my belief that the privileged should acknowledge their privileges and abstain from using them for personal benefit, I will add to my "privileged status" list:

1.  I was born into exactly the kind of family that is in the majority in our subculture:  My ancestors were Anabaptists of European descent.

2.  My parental family was respected.  My father was a church leader and person of influence outside our local fellowship.  Many of my siblings have made worthwhile contributions in various fields of service.

3.  I have an academic degree.

4.  I work in a respected profession.

5.  I have a forum in this space.

6.  My children have some outstanding skills.

7.  I am not poverty-stricken.

8.  I am not handicapped physically.

9,  I succeeded in school--in athletics in grade school and in academics throughout.

Please note that the list includes things I believe to be a privilege regardless of how others may view them.  I hope I always remember to use these privileges for the benefit of others, and not to take personal credit for possessing them.

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I want yet to acknowledge the Scriptural teaching of male leadership and female submission.  I don't wish to undermine those principles--only to appeal to all of us to understand and apply them in the context of Christian behavior to which all are called.

No matter the social role, all should reject pride, selfishness, fear, vindictiveness, over-confidence and the use of force,  All should be willing to hear and learn from others, and to examine, evaluate and order their own beliefs and behaviors in light of what is right according to Scripture.  All should be willing to stand with those who suffer, even if it means that we suffer with them.

Who would have thought that individuals in the transgender community could offer in a news article so much impetus for thinking about gender privilege and victimization?  Or that current news could highlight racial privilege and victimization so graphically?  If we're not learning now, maybe it's because we don't want to learn.

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  Mark 4:9.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

West Center Cemetery

During our family reunion this past weekend, my brother Caleb and I took a few minutes to go to the cemetery to see the new marker at my mother's grave.  My niece Megan and her husband Aaron arrived a little later.

During this little foray, Caleb told me an interesting story involving the cemetery and Theron Schlabach, prominent Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen College.  Caleb did not mention this, but they may have been on the faculty at Goshen at the same time.

In a surprising vocational juxtaposition, Schlabach sometimes drove a semi on cross-country trips during the summer.  On one such trip he came through the middle of our community on US 50.  When he spied the cemetery where my mother is now buried, he stopped and took a picture because he thought it the most representative of all the plain Amish cemeteries he had ever seen.  His personal employment history here lists trucking as early as 1951 and as late as 2010, and Caleb didn't say when the picture-taking took place.

During most of my memory, all the markers in the cemetery were made of concrete formed into an upright rectangle shape except for its rounded top.  The front face of the tombstones had lettering pressed into the wet concrete, giving the bare minimum of details about the individual whose body lay below.  In some cases, the concrete had eroded significantly.

In a quick scan of the data here on West Center Cemetery, the earliest death date I found was 1888, although one almost-certain error said 1818.  The error date was listed for one of the 15 children whose remains had been removed from their original burial place in Ford County, Kansas.  They were reburied in a common grave with all the other death dates within a few years of 1918.  The data collector was Rose Stout, who was on the site on August 20, 2008 to gather the information.  At that time there were 357 graves.

I don't recall if there was a fence around the cemetery earlier.  If so, I'm sure it would have featured hedge (Osage Orange) posts and some low woven-wire fencing topped by barbed wire.  An outhouse in the northeast corner of the cemetery still stands.  Also still present are some gnarled hedge trees along the south fence.  Probably originally a full row, they were likely planted before 1900, when a one-acre plot was deeded by E. E. Bontrager to the "Amish Church Society of Center Township."  The Amish settlement near the center of Reno County in Kansas was launched in 1883.

Changes came to the cemetery over the past decade or so.  The cemetery was considerably enlarged, with a hitching rack installed (near the original fence line?) on the west and the north.  The areas beyond that serve as parking areas.  A chain link fence outlines the perimeter.  A drive-through gate on the south side (toward US 50) permits entry of grave-digging equipment and casket-transporting vehicles or buggies.

Most of those buried in this cemetery in recent years have been from the "Beachy" congregations--Center and Cedar Crest.  For most of its history this was an Amish cemetery used by the Old Order Amish in the area.  Next it was used by both the Old Orders and the Beachys.  Now the Old Orders have a cemetery near the Amish Community Building south and east of Pleasantview.  The Arlington Beachys have several graves now in a cemetery on their church grounds.   Plainview has had a cemetery on their church grounds for many years, perhaps since the early 1960s.  

For the sake of keeping good records, the replacement of the old cement gravestones with newer marble ones in recent years is a big improvement, since some of the markings were very close to becoming illegible.   These new markers can't compensate for the paucity of some of the original information (one marker says only C. E. B.), but the records that were considered important enough to impress into concrete have now been carved into much longer-lasting marble.

I like that I can now clearly read the names of many of my Kansas great-grandparents--those with the surnames of Miller and Nisly.  Going back one more generation, to my great great grandparents are added the names also of Yutzy and Mast ancestors.  Some day perhaps someone will see my grave in this place and recognize the name of their ancestor. I'm afraid though that if Theron Schlabach drove through today on US50, he would no longer feel that the West Center Cemetery fits as iconic an image as it did when he first noticed it. For purely sentimental reasons, that's a little sad.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Smelly Situation

I get asked a lot of questions.  Yesterday Paul Y. called to see if I had any ideas about what to do for a client who apparently has a skunk living under his house.  The odor inside the house is bad.  He asked me because he remembered that we had some experience with a skunk.  I told that story here.

We talked about some possibilities for getting the skunk to leave, but didn't really come up with anything we knew was absolutely right for someone with few financial resources.  (Animal control does not control skunks)  I promised to do some research on how to rid the house of the smell.  The pest control company offered packs that could be placed in each room to rid it of the smell, but the money for that was a problem too.

Today we talked again, and I learned that he had hired a pest control company to remove the skunk.  In the meantime I had found some information on how to rid various things of the skunk smell.   I'm writing it here in case I ever need it.

Essential Oils was the first thing that came to mind.  Just recently I've begun learning about essential oils, and I thought an EO might work.  Very quickly I learned that the paper in those odor absorbing packs is Pine Oil and Eucalyptus Oil.  Bingo.   Saturating something absorbent like a cotton ball with those two oils and placing one  in each room should perform the same magic as those packs.  The oils (several drops in two cups of water) could also be dispensed through a diffuser or sprayed into the air as a fine mist from a spray bottle.  I'm  not knowledgeable about the mechanism in operation here but I understand the EO compounds bond to the smelly skunk compounds and render them inactive.

Later on I learned that skunk spray is an oily substance, so anything used to treat skin, a pet or fabrics that have absorbed skunk odors must contain some detergent or soap to dissolve the oils.  On this site from the University of Nebraska I found a research-based recipe for neutralizing skunk odor.

1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide (from an unopened container)
1/4 cup baking soda
1-2 T. liquid dishwashing soap (Dawn is often recommended)

Apply to people or pets and allow to remain for about 5 minutes and then rinse off.  (Don't leave it on hair too long unless you're trying for a bleach job.) For clothing, mix into water in washing machine and run through the entire cycle.  Expect an explosion if you ever leave the mixture in a closed container.  Mix it fresh and use it promptly.  Check out the Nebraska site above for the best information I found anywhere.

Siding and outdoor furniture can be sprayed with a 1:9 bleach and water mixture.

Also worth noting is that skunks are repelled by the smell of peppermint.  The source I read suggested dropping oils around the foundation of the house.  I wondered why you wouldn't just plant peppermint plants if you were worried about skunks.

I've heard anecdotally about successfully using ozone generators in intolerable situations inside a building.  The Nebraska site casts doubt on the effectiveness of this approach.  Unless you could rent a machine inexpensively, it's not likely to be worth the expense for Paul's client.

Do you have a proven remedy to share?