Prairie View

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Wrap Up 2/12/2017

Today in church we sang two of the congregational songs that we sang at my dad's funeral:  "Come, We That Love the Lord," and "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need." Shane led the singing, just as he had at the funeral.  The last line of the second song is "No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home."  In connection with that phrase, Shane referenced Dad's keen awareness of his identity as a pilgrim and stranger on earth.  It was a big part of Dad's way of living that we hadn't mentioned in the tribute, and I was glad it was not overlooked completely in the funeral service.


Singing at church is increasingly meaningful to me.  It's a compelling reason not to be late because the service is usually opened with singing and I hate to miss any of it.  We've begun using Hymns of the Church, known informally as the Purple Martin songbook (the compiler is John Martin and the cover is purple), and last year I found myself often wishing I could read over the words again at home and ponder them.

So I did what I've done before--bought my own Christmas present to save Hiromi the trouble.  I bought a songbook for myself.  I have used that songbook regularly during my private devotions ever since.  Since I own the book, I'm marking it up freely, according to the code I've developed as the need arose.

One of the first things I did was to check the Scripture Index to see if any of the songs were linked to the Sunday School lesson for the week.  If so, I read those songs and, if they were familiar, I sang them inside my head.  Those songs were marked like this:  H-1-1-17-SS.  That means I "sang" it at home on January 1, 2017, and it corresponded to the Sunday School lesson.  Inside-the-head singing is a kindness to Hiromi who is usually still asleep while I'm doing this.

If a song is marked with a C instead of an H, it means it's a song we sang in church.  If the date is followed by an asterisk, it means that it was a "new-song-of-the-month" at church.  Sometimes I add other notes.  For example, recently Menno's daughter-in-law selected a song in honor of Menno, who died within the past year or two, so I added the note "Sung in honor of Menno Nisly" after the date.

I usually read and reflect on the scripture verse listed with each song.  Often I follow up by reading the longer passage where it occurs.  

I have to write down the song numbers during church if I'm to remember what they were.  That's a slight inconvenience.  I just had an idea!!!!   What if those numbers could be added to the announcement sheet?  Maybe others would find it easier to worship through those same songs at home if this little detail was taken care of for them.


Last week our church hosted the Shepherd's Institute.  It was a week-long training session for pastors primarily.  The main presenters were Linford Berry, Chester Weaver, and Milo Zehr.  Only the evening sessions were open to the public.  Every evening featured a session on worship by Linford Berry and another on the story of the Dutch Mennonites by Chester Weaver.  These sessions were very worthwhile.  They can be accessed at

I can't give a very satisfactory summary of the content, but I recognized in one part of what Linford Berry spoke of--that what happens in our church and what happens at home for me is that we are speaking to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  This is an important part of worship.

Chester Weaver's story revealed details of one of the two great blots on Anabaptist/Mennonite history--the Mennonites of Germany who became good Nazis when Hitler came to power (the other one is Muenster).  Weaver very studiously avoided making comparisons to anything happening in America now, but I find the parallels stark enough to be terrifying.  Those German Mennonites of Dutch ancestry had completely lost identity with the signature Anabaptist gift to the world:  the separation of church and state.  The life in Christ at the center of living faith had also been lost, and nationalism took its place.

Fifty years after the fact, even those Mennonite Nazis realized their terrible mistake and apologized.  Seeking forgiveness is a good thing, but it would have been better to seek "permission" from God fifty years earlier.  Thinking about that even a tiny bit might have revealed how completely at odds Hitler's agenda was with the Spirit of Christ, and might have led Dutch/German Mennonites to step off the political/government train that carried many others to death.   The Mennonites were not only complicit in it; some of them helped kill "undesirables" directly by volunteering for the SS--the elite forces involved in the killing machine.


I'm thinking a lot about social studies right now.  Our curriculum committee is formulating a philosophy statement as the first step in making good curriculum choices for our school.  We've gotten only so far as an incomplete rough draft.  Even that has called for a lot of background reading and pondering historical documents.

From many angles, I've had a chance to think about what it means to be faithful to Christ while living in a world where government, geography, economics,  history, anthropology, sociology, and psychology are facets of the reality we must deal with.

Many influences enter into my thinking about how to parse and synthesize the truths that must be taken into account in developing a coherent, cohesive belief and statement--the example of my dad's pilgrim and stranger identity, his firm belief that being a witness is incumbent on Christians, papers written by students, Francis Schaeffer's influence on how Christians think about these things, the Schleitheim Confession, the insights of a Christian Facebook friend who lives abroad, thoughtful columnists who write about our times, the book Pilgrims and Politics, John Howard Yoder's writings, Anabaptist history, interactions with people who are politically involved, and memories of things learned in college classes.  Doing it all under the Lordship of Christ is my goal.


Conversation with Chester Weaver revealed that he is a first cousin to a young man whose life intersected with mine for a time a number of decades ago.  His comment that "he never recovered" sent me scurrying later to search for evidence that I was not really as guilty as that statement might have suggested that I am--although I don't think he meant to assign blame.  He did, in fact, acknowledge that major cultural differences were present,  Hiromi and I laughed later about the incongruity of my having cited cultural differences in that situation and then "ending up married to a former Buddhist from Japan."


Hiromi and I had all five grandsons here for the evening last night.  We loved it.  Ryker, who is about 2 1/2 months old slept nearly all evening.  The rest ate heartily and played happily.  They're really fun little people--every one of them.  Several days ago Ryker underwent a procedure where multiple "ties" inside his mouth were "untied." He had lip, cheek, and tongue ties--multiples of each--which were severed by laser.  I find it painful to think about.  I never heard of such things until recently, and now I seem to be hearing about them a lot.  If the condition is more common than earlier, I wonder why.


In our mailbox at church today were valentines from the far-away granddaughters, along with a  letter from their mother.  The mail was hand carried by Nelson and Hannah, who returned from BD recently.  That extended the grandchild fix from last night into today.


I learned today that my brother Ronald is to be the speaker for the weekend pre-ordination meetings that will take place later this spring, ahead of a scheduled deacon ordination.


I can't believe it.  My sister from the KC area was here for almost a week and I never saw her.  Long days at school and evenings at the Shepherd's Institute took up all my time.  Carol came with her daughter's family when her son-in-law came to install some epoxy floor covering for a job my brother Lowell was also helping with.


Many times during the Shepherd's Institute I thought of how much my dad would have enjoyed it.  I've missed him many other times, often when I was sure he could have supplied some missing information or perspective, or when I wasn't sure what to make of something I was hearing.  He was good at bringing balance to discussions, and his knowledge of history was often instructive.  What he's experiencing now is surely better, but it's not yet better for me.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Roasted and Banished

I learned several weeks ago about a cause of fire that I had never thought to worry about.  This cause affected our son's property along K61.  Our daughter-in-law, Clarissa (Clare) first became aware of the problem when a fire truck appeared in the driveway.  Someone had seen that the pasture was on fire and had called for help.

The wind that day was from the north.  A power line borders the roadway on the south, marking the boundary between the public roadside and the pasture that is part of their 9-acre property.  The house and other outbuilding are mostly west of the pasture, although the pasture does curve around to the south of the buildings at the west end (my apologies to any reader not used to thinking in cardinal directions).

When the excitement was over, the cause was discovered near one of the power line poles.  It was a badly charred hawk--identifiable by his body shape, beak and talons.  He had apparently been electrocuted, with his feathers set aflame in the process.  When the flaming body fell onto dry grass, the grass ignited and the fire spread quickly under the force of the wind.  Two fire departments responded, and the fire was contained--not before it had burned all the way to the outside wall of one of the outbuildings.


A Great-Horned Owl has been frequenting our property of late.  I often hear its vocalizations if I wake up at night.  I've seen it perched nearby late in the evening and early in the morning.  Since these owls may nest as early as January, I presume that some of the hunting may be the work of hardworking parents.

In previous years, I often saw a Great Horned Owl perched in the evening on the cross-arm of a power line pole along the railroad on the opposite side of Trail West Road which goes by our place.

In recent months the entire row of power line poles along the railroad has been removed.  I lament the absence of the lines and poles for several reasons.  It makes the landscape more featureless, and it removes miles of perching space for songbirds and predator birds.

Training binoculars on a bird resting on a power line is relatively easy compared to locating it among the branches of a tree, so part of what I lament is that I don't have a clear view of birds as readily available anymore.  Also, I'm sorry that birds of prey don't have a good vantage point for hunting over the prey-rich un-mowed grass along the railroad.  That must be why the resident Great Horned Owl is busy on our  little 3-acre property.  I hope our cat and our chickens stay safe.  The Cottontail rabbits?  He can have those.  The mice too.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

PSA for the Locals

Dorcas Smucker, blogger and author, will be in this community for several days this week.  She plans to be at the Gospel Bookstore on Tuesday to sign books and meet friends and make new friends.  Here are the details, copied from her Facebook post:

Kansas friends: I'd love to see you and at least say hello at a book signing/meet-n-greet at Glenn's Bulk Food Shoppe & Gospel Bookstore on Tuesday, January 24, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
6405 W. Morgan Ave., Hutchinson, KS

I hope this event is profitable all around.  Thanks to Dorcas for taking time to make it happen.

Friday, January 20, 2017

An Inauguration Day Celebration

Today I saw the first outdoor bloom of the 2017 year.  It was a witchhazel blossom at Dyck Arboretum in Hesston--tiny fronds of yellow on the otherwise bare branches of a tree.  My horticulturist friend Pam was the first to spot it, and she documented this phenological event with her camera.  I presume that she also recorded it inside the visitor's center where, in a nod to Aldo Leopold, the American father of Phenology, this 35th Anniversary year has been designated as a year-long celebration of  Leopold and his work.  The witchazel bloom makes today a day of celebration for people like me.  Spring and summer are coming!

Eight years ago on the day Barak Obama was inaugurated, our family also celebrated.  My mother had heart surgery several months earlier, on the Monday before Thanksgiving.  Recovery had been arduous, and she had struggled to overcome a serious bacterial infection.  During that time she could hardly eat, and we were worried that, although the surgery was successful, Mom might not regain her health.  Then, when the infection finally was conquered, things began to look up.  Mom could sleep in her own bed again instead of in the hospital bed we had moved into the living room.  On January 20 we moved the hospital bed back to the "invalid equipment barn" at Cedar Crest, and the extended family gathered to celebrate Mom's progress.  We joked with Mom about having an inauguration day party, and my cousin Eldon, who stopped in that evening for some reason, joined the frivolity, teasing Mom about her political sensibilities.

This morning I drove all the way to Hesston in very dense fog.  It was unnerving, and I prayed that I wouldn't miss my turnoff toward Hesston--and that no oncoming traffic would suddenly materialize when I was in the middle of my left turn.  Ahead of me, a semi slowed dramatically in preparation for a right turn--at the same intersection where I needed to turn left.  I saw where I was, and I was on my way north with new assurance, grateful for how the Lord worked out the little details I was concerned about.  The drive home in late afternoon was less harrowing, but still very dark, with heavy clouds overhead.  Now most of the Western sky has cleared, and the sinking sun was that hot-pink-orange, molten lava color that compels me to watch until all traces of it disappear.

Last week was the second anniversary of my mother's burial.  We have not yet passed the two-month marker since my father's death.  Having spent the day at Dyck Arboretum today reminded me of the days in early July when we had the last family gathering there.  My dad was present then and I missed him today.  Pam knew him too and extended her condolences and shared a good memory of him.  That was one of the times I missed Dad.

This was a good day to look for things to celebrate.  Memories of healing and restoration, and glimpses of rebirth in the natural world didn't set my whole world right, but, on a foggy and dark inauguration day they bring a measure of comfort and peace.  The Lord can show the way and the skies may clear, and the Son will most assuredly shine brightly, transfixing all those who gaze on Him.  This I can celebrate.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Not Inspiring or Profound

I have perhaps only one Facebook friend who is a vocal Obama fan.  Her name is Almaz, and I learned to know her when we were both Sterling College students.  She is, in fact, one of two students I learned to know there with that same first name.  The other one is the sister of a third student, who since then became Miss Ethiopia, and now has her own fashion consultation business in the US.  All of them were from Ethiopia, and all of them were Christians.  When I first learned to know them, their country was Communist, and they had to leave the country furtively to come to America, but their Christian parents were desperate to get them to a safe place elsewhere, and they made the necessary arrangments.  At least two of them live now in the US.

Even without Almaz' posts I had a few Obama-fan thoughts of my own recently, and it dawned on me that it's because he reminds me in some ways of my brothers and other good men.  Of course, thankfully none of my brothers issue executive orders that mess with people's ideas of what is right and wrong in gender matters.  Neither do they support abortion rights. For those things I do not admire Obama.  I am also thankful that, unlike Obama, none of my brothers has ever idealized seeking political office.

Like Obama, my brothers are, however, cool and collected.  They're intelligent and articulate.  They are not philanderers, but care for their families and remain loyal to them.  They do not typically rush in "where angels fear to tread." They feel no need to make race an issue, ever.  Like Obama's family, ours has individuals of various racial/ethnic flavors.  They aim to settle differences by discourse and negotiation--not by issuing threats or launching attacks (my brothers' record on this is better than Obama's, and Obama's is better than that of many past presidents).  My brothers are affable.  They do not ostracize those who are marginalized in society.  They treat others fairly and respectfully.

In spite of a fairly humble upbringing, Obama and my brothers are at home in a wide variety of settings--not in the centers of power, in my brothers' case, but in academic settings, in foreign countries, in wild places, on basketball courts, in poverty-stricken areas of large cities.  My brothers are more at home on farms than Obama is, and Obama combines in his persona more of those "at-home" places than any single one of my brothers does.

I apologize if you were hoping for something inspiring and profound.  Attempts at those kinds of thoughts have had to go in other directions of late, and I don't have a lot to spare here just now.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Wrapup December 18, 2016

Seeing my nephew Bryant Miller's name in today's newspaper listing the Anderson Concerto winners for this year reminded me that I had planned to post a link to a recording of his prize-winning piano performance.  When someone in our extended family requested the link, Bryant's mother, sister-in-law Rhoda, wrote this note in addition:  The judge liked his "great aural image and artistic idea
for performing this work" whatever that all means.
To my surprise, the winners in the other three divisions were from families I know.  One was the son of my cousin Delmar Miller and his wife Suzanne.  Another was the son of college friends, Terry and Kristen Robson, and the third was the daughter of Stutzman Greenhouse's Jason French.  Each of these winners will play with the Hutchinson Symphony Orchestra in a February concert.

The two Miller boys are both homeschooled.


In connection with the project of featuring Perry Miller in our composition class' community writing project, we've had several guests in class at various times during the past two weeks.  Perry, Gary, and Ellis Miller each took time to meet with us.

Despite getting a little smarter each year about how to pull off these big projects, it always proves to be a daunting challenge, with a lot of angst about setup, editing, arranging for printing, and making financial arrangements--all of that in addition to gathering information, compiling it, and using good writing skills and strategies to convey it.  It's never perfect, but to me it's always felt worthwhile afterward.


We had a local low of 14.6 below zero this morning, as recorded at my brother Lowell's place.  That's colder than it's been in this area for a number of years.  Our household wasn't the only one that woke to frozen water pipes this morning.  Ours thawed just before time to leave for church--which is when we discovered that a leak had developed in one of the pipes in the utility room.  It was a good thing we discovered this before we left, and the water could be turned off.  Hiromi had on hand what he needed to fix it.


We had some moments of concern for our neighbors last night when fire trucks passed by here on their way to a big structure fire there.  It turned out to be a shed rather than the house.  I'm sure it was still a big loss, but at least they still had a home on that frigid night.  I said a prayer for the fire fighters as well as our neighbors.  I'm sure that warming their toes in their own home would have been preferable to leaving home to stand around or work outside instead.


This might sound a little strange, but this cold weather has helped me be grateful that both of my parents are safely home.  Dad would have  never considered staying home from church on a day like today.  Truthfully, he would likely have managed alright, given the fact that he could have entered his vehicle in the garage and exited right outside the church doors, but I was glad this morning to see that a few other elderly church members simply stayed home today.  I would have wanted the same for my parents.  There was some snow underfoot, and the brutal cold could have become problematic in a hurry if anything had gone awry en route between home and church.


On Friday evening Hiromi and I both got home around 7:00, long after dark.  I got here several minutes before he did and planned to stop for the mail.  It was a miserably damp and windy night and I got a little disoriented and passed right by the mailbox before stopping.  Then I had a flash of recognition.  Wait.  That looked like the mailbox and the paper box on the ground.  I wheeled right on through the circle drive and headed back out to the road where my car lights illuminated the scene.  Both boxes were bent and lying on opposite sides of the driveway, and the posts were lying on the ground near where they had been standing.  The mail was scattered about, with one piece having stayed inside the open mailbox.

We don't think it was a prank or a malicious act, and we're leaning right now toward blaming either a passing monster vehicle or a ditch mower?????  Is that even possible--that the county was giving all the roadsides one more trim before winter?  I think anything except possibly a monster vehicle or a tractor would have been damaged by the encounter with a solidly set hedge post.


This evening I finally decided that my cold/cough was probably not a big enough problem to keep me away from my two-week-old grandson any longer.  I went over to spend the evening holding the baby and loving on Wyatt, who is almost three.  The baby's mother had a chance to take a shower and deal with some laundry that needed to be folded and put away.  Grant had a terrible time getting home with the truck, having encountered icy roads first in Indiana and then again in Missouri.  Instead of having gotten home yesterday as planned, he hopes to arrive tomorrow.

The good part is that everyone at their house is feeling better, and Clare's sister Angeleise having left for home yesterday has not been disastrous for Clare and the little boys.


Yesterday it was our turn to clean the church.  Last night we watched Shane's boys while they attended the Coldwell Banker's Christmas party.  Shane works as a realtor under their umbrella.  There's probably a better way to word that, but I don't know how.  My pile of school work has been untouched this weekend.


Three more days till Christmas vacation!  I may not have a chance to come up for air till then.  That's why I'm concentrating on fortifying my spiritual and emotional reserves on this day of rest, fellowship, and worship.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sunday Wrapup--December 11, 2016

Today Hiromi and I both stayed home from church because of a cold and cough.  He seems to have caught what I am still very slowly recovering from.  Yesterday was to be a day of getting lots of schoolwork done.  It didn't happen.  I was just too exhausted to manage anything beyond laundry and bread baking.

Another downside of having this malady is that I haven't seen the newest grandson since the day he was born.  I don't want to expose him to what I have.  He's doing well, even without my watchful eye.


Last week we started an Expotitions cycle on Animal Signs.  Animal tracks come to mind first, but a variety of other signs are worth noting as well.

On very short notice, 14-year-old Vincent Miller came to school to talk about his experiences with trapping.  He showed us several pelts that he has tanned himself (coyote and beaver), and a variety of traps he uses.  He also had coyote scat in a little zipper bag and told us something I didn't know.  Animals can gather a variety of messages from sniffing droppings.   This happens because a shift in the animal's hormones affects the scent of droppings, and other animals can tell if the animal that passed by earlier was in an aggressive mood, for example.

Another interesting thing Vincent does is extract skunk musk to be sold.  First the skunk is dispatched with a shot to the lungs, so the spray mechanism isn't activated.  Then he removes at least a part of the hide to expose the scent glands.  With a syringe, he can extract the liquid scent and place it in a container which is then tightly sealed.  For good measure, the lid is sealed with liquid wax and the container is buried in sawdust inside a box for shipping.

Some perfume companies use this in their products, but the majority of it goes to manufacturers of scents and lures used for baiting various animals.

Vincent is homeschooled.  He spoke to his age mates at school on a topic on which he had become an expert of sorts.  His dad provided transportation.


My Uncle Perry Miller came to school on Tuesday of last week to answer questions about his life.  The composition class is attempting to write a booklet telling that story.  On Friday his son Gary also came to help fill in some gaps where Perry's modesty or his 91-year-old memory interfered.


We had the coldest temperatures of the season so far last week.  It didn't go down to the single digits as predicted, however.  We saw a few snowflakes, but nothing accumulated.  After a winter last year with no snow until Easter Sunday, some of us are ready for the excitement of snow again.  Facebook tells me that friends in Indiana and Ohio are getting snow.


The community chorus gave a Christmas program at Center last week.  After a day of not feeling well I roused myself long enough to go hear the presentation and found it very worthwhile.  It's a big group (70?) from a number of area churches.  I heard a number of new songs.  Shane was one of several soloists.


One of the images from my dad's funeral that keeps coming back to me is what happened when Pastor Sam from Partridge filed by the casket.  He stopped briefly and delivered a salute before moving on.  I think that's probably the very first time that happened inside our church.

I can imagine that Dad would have grinned if he had seen it--a little abashed, and certainly trying to direct the honors elsewhere.  He would have accepted it as a kind gesture, however, and reflected on Sam's friendship with warmth.

A former Partridge pastor, Pam Tinnin, wrote this to Joel, with whom she has kept contact on Facebook:   I served as pastor of Partridge Community Church UCC from 1996 to 2004. During that time we entered a war against Iraq. I organized a peaceful protest held in Hutchinson that included over 100 people from Partridge, Hutchinson and other Reno County areas. After that event, Pastor Miller sent me a note. I must admit that as I opened it, I wondered whether it contained words of condemnation. To my amazement, it was a wonderful note of affirmation, saying how I was doing God's work and if I ever felt as if I needed a supportive presence, I could call on him. What a blessing that was and I will never forget it. Some time after that, I arranged for two leaders from the Muslim religious community in Wichita to speak at the Partridge Church. Pastor Miller attended that night and thanked me for bringing the speakers to our community. He was truly a great man of God. Prayers for comfort to his family and community. Rev. Pamela J. Tinnin, Cloverdale, California


One of the losses I feel with Dad's death is that I am lacking some protections that I have always enjoyed.  It seems silly in a way since I have been married for 35 years and have not been dependent on my father on a day to day basis for any of that time.

His watchfulness and wisdom somehow gave me courage to interact with the issues in my world fearlessly.  I feel vulnerable without it.

Alongside these unwelcome emotions, I also recognize that having Dad "safely home" feels very right.  The oncoming winter cold feels less threatening, knowing that Dad will not try to venture out in it.  There is no specter of increasing limitations or the return of cancer for Dad.  Certainly we would find a way to deal with whatever happened if he were still with us.  As it is, he's free from our bumbling efforts to do so, and is in the presence of God and of those who have died in Christ.


Our curriculum committee is racing against the deadline of the start of the second semester to line up some materials for several high school classes that have always been individualized before.  Right now our heads are spinning with world history topics.  Next we'll look at physical science.  We're also still trying to finish up health and physical education.

This curriculum review is taking longer than any of us anticipated, but what we've accomplished so far seems worthwhile, and we're all very invested in continuing to work toward completion.

I think the documents we've created so far are available online somewhere--maybe in a private discussion group for Christian school principals.