Prairie View

Monday, May 22, 2017

Quote for the Day--May 22, 2017

Three of my grandsons were here today for several hours.  The middle one, Carson (3), made these observations:

"I heard that car go past.  That means I have sensitive ears, or it was a loud noise."

Later he added this:  "Or I might have imagined it."

I like how he reasons through all the possibilities, turning each one over for examination, and submitting them for others' consideration.  I also  like how he can articulate what he's thinking.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Time to Savor Memories

On Friday of last week, I spent several hours at the house that used to belong to my parents but is now becoming the home of my sister Linda.  The activity of the day was sorting through old letters.  Progress was slow because so many treasures surfaced.  Now and then I pondered briefly the ethics of reading the personal exchanges between people who are now deceased or aged.  But that didn't keep me from reading the next one.  One of the things that struck me is how many of the questions and struggles of young people in the late 1940s and early 1950s resemble the struggles of young people in 2017.

In one of my mother's letters to her boyfriend (my father), she asked what he thought she should do about some of the "indiscretions" she had indulged in while she was in Christian service (at Brooklane, a Mennonite mental health facility) away from her home community and Old Order Amish church.  She mentioned having posed for pictures and something else that I can't remember.  She wrote that she didn't think those things were sins in themselves, but she realized that they were a violation of what her church expected of her.  That realization troubled her.

In another letter, one of Dad's brothers wrote him, asking for input on whether he could safely enroll in college without risking alienation from his home church.  The letter was written to Dad while he was a student at Eastern Mennonite College in Virginia.  It was mailed from Puerto Rico where the brother was serving under MCC.  The brother wrote that he had asked their parents and not gotten an answer.  In thinking about it, he realized that probably his parents did not wish to bear the responsibility of encouraging him to go to college, and that if he pressed them for an answer, they might feel obligated to say no.  He had also written his uncle Fred, who was an Amish minister in another state, and then ended up  not mailing the letter for the same reason--that he feared he would feel obligated to say no, even though he might not have personal scruples against the proposal.  My uncle made it clear that he hoped to use an education to teach school--something he would be able to do with a physical handicap he had acquired as a toddler.

You've paved the way, my uncle wrote.  In effect, he was asking, how is is working for you?  He ended up with a career in public education, while staying in the church his parents were part of.

I found the provisional teacher's certificates that were awarded to my father by the state of Kansas.

Another official set of paperwork gave my father permission to plant castor beans.  I remember that field of castor beans.  I don't know why he needed special permission to plant them, but it sounds like my dad to have wanted to try something a bit out of the ordinary in farming.

I have no idea why, but most of the letters we found were still in their original envelopes, nearly all opened by a neat scissors slice across the end--not by using a letter opener to slit the long side at the top of the sealing flap.  The letters sent to my dad while he was in college were simply addressed:  David L. Miller, Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg, VA.  Three cents in postage was sufficient.

I came across a letter from Amos Yoder (Dorcas Smucker's father) while he was working at MCC headquarters in Pennsylvania.  I also found a letter from Chris Swartzentruber, who, after having lived in several states away from his home state of Iowa, was still contemplating where he might move his family in order to focus on outreach and escape some of the inconsistencies and trappings he experienced in various communities where he had lived.  He ended up in Costa Rica.  One of his daughters eventually married Pablo Yoder, my sister-in-law Judy's brother.

Another letter was from ___________Mancini (sp?).  I remember my dad naming him as a person not of Anabaptist background who was making an effort to reach out to those who were becoming open to mission outreach.  He wrote to my father, thanking him for his kind letter, noting that he was getting a lot of critical mail.  I think my dad said that eventually those who were moving in that direction did decide to disassociate themselves from Mancini because of opposition to him from fellow church members.

One of my mother's best friends, Miriam Hochstetler, (aunt to Jo--Mrs. Oren Yoder) wrote to Mom from Minnesota that the area she was in was beautiful.  "I know you've always been a nature lover," she wrote, "but here, I am too."  Miriam and Mom had worked together at Brooklane in Maryland, and Miriam had later moved to Minnesota to work in voluntary service there.  Hmmmm.  My mom was known as a nature lover in her young adult years.  So that's where I got that.  

In the world history class I taught this past semester I kept coming across things that I was sure I had learned from my mother.  Several weeks ago I heard in a student presentation that Joseph McCarthy had provided a valuable service by exposing Communists in American government.  I'm sure I remember my mother offering a very different version of Joseph McCarthy's role in the US political realm.  A quick check online revealed a Britannica Online entry that agreed with my mother's version--and with my memories of having learned about McCarthyism in later school studies.

Just recently, I also came across a mention of the Ural Mountains in world history class.  I remember my mother telling me that the the Ural Mountains are in Russia.  They're still there, just like she said they were.

On what occasions did my mom talk about things such as McCarthyism and the Ural Mountains?  I have no idea, except that I'm sure that it happened in the course of living what seemed to us all at the time to be an ordinary life.  It's only now that I realize how extraordinary it was.  The wider world was very present in our household, peopled though it was with twelve children and very busy parents.
Can you tell that I'm awash in memories of my parents?  Now that school is over for the year, I have the freedom to savor these memories.  I love it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Asparagus and Other Things

After the potluck (carry-in) dinner after church today, a handful of people asked about how to make the marinated asparagus dish I had brought.  Only Sarah wrote it down, so I decided to write it here, to help out all those others whose brains are probably as unlikely to retain the precise amounts of the ingredients as mine would be.  I think the recipe might have come originally from a Taste of Home magazine.  I never subscribed to it, so it must have been a passed-along one.

Marinated Asparagus

50 spears asparagus, medium thickness
8 oz. Italian dressing (I like Zesty Italian.)
1/3 cup vinegar (I use raw apple cider vinegar.)
1 teaspoon tarragon (dried leaf herb)
1 teaspoon garlic salt (Mine has dried parsley mixed in.)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Blanch the asparagus by immersing it in boiling water and allowing it to come to a rolling boil again.  Remove from heat and cool it.  Meanwhile, combine the Italian dressing and vinegar.  In a separate small bowl, combine the tarragon, garlic salt, and pepper.  Drain the asparagus spears and arrange a single layer in the bottom of a rectangular dish.  Sprinkle some of the dry spices over the asparagus spears.  About 1/4 t. per layer comes out about right for me.  When all the asparagus has been added, pour the dressing over the spears.  Leave on the counter at room temperature several hours or overnight.  Refrigerate.

Notes:  

Even when it's efficiently packed, I find that this amount of dressing does not completely cover the asparagus.  If it's in an airtight container the container can be flipped partway through the marinating process.  Alternatively (this is what I do), the amount of marinade can be increased.  After the first batch, I save the "old" marinade and use it to top off the new batch, adding enough to cover all the spears, and making sure to flip it several times early on to distribute the fresh flavor throughout.  The leftover marinade could also be used to flavor tossed salads.

The original recipe suggested serving the spears on a lettuce leaf.  I've never done so, but someone might like this option.

In a Korean grocery store, I found the perfect container for marinating asparagus.  Think of it as a small deep glass rectangular baking dish with  a very tight-fitting plastic lid that has flaps that snap firmly into place on the outside of the dish on all sides.  I've seen similar ones made of plastic.  Mine is completely leak-proof, and it's just the right size for one batch of marinated asparagus.  It actually holds more than one batch, but not quite two.

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Conversation about this asparagus recipe today prompted lots of information about other ways of preparing asparagus.  My mom usually served creamed asparagus, probably because that was the only way to stretch the supply to make enough for everyone at the table to have a serving.  Only when it was very plentiful did she fry the asparagus rounds in butter, sprinkling flour and salt into the pan and on top of the asparagus in the pan.  I liked the fried asparagus best.

I learned from Hiromi to stir-fry it in toasted-sesame-seed oil and season it with soy sauce.  Today Twila told me she loves it stir-fired in bacon drippings.  I heard that Jo makes a really good roasted asparagus.  I don't know what the exact ingredients are, but presumably it's brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with some spices.  I tried something similar on the grill with the fattest spears recently.

Last weekend I prepared a big kettle full of creamed asparagus for a DLM family gathering.  Hiromi liked it when I cooked some for him earlier and Lois suggested that when I offered to bring asparagus in some form.  For this big amount, I went looking for a recipe.  To my surprise, the recipes I found online contained hard-boiled eggs and were intended for serving over toast.  That gave me another idea for how to use an abundance of asparagus.

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My row of purple asparagus consistently produces the thickest spears in the patch.  I don't know why the difference.

I'm always pleased to find thick asparagus stalks, but I learned once when I was selling asparagus at the farmer's market that some people who are uninformed about growing asparagus assume that the fat stalks are over-mature and tough.  No. Tall means tough-at-the-bottom.  Short and fat is just fine--tender all the way down.

I've also noted that any asparagus that is cooked promptly after harvesting is far more likely to be tender all the way to the bottom than is the case after it's been in the refrigerator for a few days.  We always snap our asparagus when we harvest it, rather than cut it, assuming that it breaks above the point where the stalk has toughened.  It does leave stubs in the garden, especially if harvest is delayed a little too long, but it doesn't take much trimming after we've brought it indoors.

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A number of years ago when we lived at the farm we planted several rows of Atlas asparagus, after I learned that it was more heat-tolerant than most asparagus, and very productive.  I was never able to locate that variety later, except in seed form from a wholesale seed producer.  One thousand seeds could be purchased for about $700.00.

Things began to make sense when I realized that the roots I had bought were probably produced by someone who had been desperate for that variety, and sprang for the only way they could get it, hoping to recoup their costs by selling extra roots.  In the process they provided a welcome service to people like me.

The growers were a market family from eastern Kansas.  I learned to know them at a meeting in the KC area after I had read about them in a cut-flower growing book and bought the asparagus from them.

Unfortunately, Atlas' heat tolerance is not matched by its cold tolerance, so I'm not sure it's the best variety for Kansas--a place where weather extremes are normal.  Last year I think Gurney's offered Atlas, and I suspect it's the best option available for areas south of Kansas.

The varieties coming out of the New Jersey breeding program are very popular.  Of all those, Jersey Knight is the most heat tolerant, while still maintaining its cold-tolerance also.  Most of them are all-male varieties, which minimizes the problem of older plantings becoming over-crowded with self-sown seedlings.  The hybrids are reportedly 3-4 times as productive as the old Mary Washington variety I was familiar with as a child.

After the asparagus harvest season is over (when the stalks revert to sizes smaller than a pencil), cutting over the bed one more time, and then piling on barnyard fertilizer is a good idea.  In our area mulch is a good form of weed control and moisture preservation.  Asparagus needs about 1/2 inch of water per week.  Robust growth of the ferns during the summer insures an abundance of harvestable stalks the following spring.

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Sometime I might try an idea that I saw in a magazine.  In this growing system, the asparagus harvest season occurs during the fall. Starting in early spring , the ferns are allowed to grow all summer long.  About six weeks before the expected first frost, all the ferns are cut down, and whatever regrows can be harvested.  The next spring follows the same sequence.

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The hops vine that I planted last summer is enthusiastically climbing the trellis Hiromi helped me construct on a structure that Grant and Clare erected while they lived here.  I suppose hearing that I'm growing a hops vine might elicit snickers from some who know that most people do this for the purpose of brewing beer.  Me?  No.  Jack, the master gardener who gave me the plant, said it's an attractive vine, and I believed him.  He was right.  The end.

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David Wagler has come here to live with the family of his daughter, Rhoda Yutzy.  Another daughter, Rachel, also lives here with her family.  Gideon, the 7th and 8th grade school teacher at Pilgrim is David's grandson.  Granddaughter Jessica is one of my students.  I'm proud of her for teaching her grandfather to use a computer.  He's done a lot of typing, but that is physically more difficult for him than it used to be.  Technology (and a willing granddaughter) to the rescue!

David (95) is the founder of Pathway Publications.  He has been a prolific writer most of his life and is well-known in Amish circles.

Having him here makes me miss my dad.  He would have loved having David live close by.  They were friends, with many similar interests.  I remember David and his wife having stayed overnight with  my parents once when they were visiting Kansas--for a funeral, perhaps.  It was long before they had children and grandchildren living here.  Both widowed, with time on their hands--this would have been a lovely time for dad and David to reconnect.

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Kansas is having very strange weather this week.  Here in the middle, we're just fine.  We've had a little over an inch of rain, some wind, and temperatures flirting with the freezing mark several times recently.  Western Kansas, on the other hand, is paralyzed by a blizzard, and far eastern Kansas has had copious amounts of rain.  In the blizzard area, many towns are without power.  In the rainy area, flooding is significant.  The southeast corner of the state where my brother Ronald lives is on the very western edge of what is a major flooding crisis in Missouri and elsewhere.

Shane's family drove to Colorado for a Choice Books weekend retreat.  Today, they were halted in Laramie, CO on their way home, with driving through Western Kansas apparently impossible.  Shane says everything is closed from Oklahoma to Nebraska.

Here, the wheat is headed out.  In Western Kansas the wheat is reportedly in the "boot" stage, in which the head is still encased in the stem.  The heavy, wet snow flattened most of the stalks, with tufts poking through here and there in one picture that I saw.  I can't imagine  that much of a wheat crop prospect remains.  This, after some hard freezes there earlier.

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Farmers in Kansas are hoping that the state legislature approves the growing of hemp in the state.  Right now, it's outlawed, along with the other cannabis cousin, marijuana.  Kansas was once a major producer of hemp.

Hemp fiber is a component of many familiar products like rope, paper, and fabric.  Most of what is used in the US is imported from Canada.

A gathering of farmers who wished to promote the hemp growing option took place just around the corner to the west of our home last week.  The Kansas House passed the proposal by a very wide margin, but the Senate president does not seem inclined to let it come up for a vote during this session--which means it could not be approved before next year.

I have hoped to see this happen for at least 20 years.  It needs a minimal amount of water, thus being ideally suited for growth in unirrigated fields in climates like ours.    Law enforcement is not eager to see the growth of hemp legalized, primarily because marijuana and hemp look so very much alike.  Hemp can not be used for hallucinogenic purposes though.

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I've advocated growing both hops and hemp in one blog post.  I probably ought to be slapping my own hands for that.  I won't though.  Within the parameters I've specified, I'm prepared to defend them both, if necessary.

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On Monday when I headed out to go to school, I met Clare and Wyatt coming up the sidewalk.  They were bringing the dog, Buck, over to stay while the whole family trundled to the northwestern states in the semi.

"Do you have a badger?" Clare asked, gesturing toward a massive pile of dirt beside a hole dug under the foundation of the house right where it joins our small front porch.

I looked down at the mess.  "That wasn't there last night," I said.

"Oh.  It's an armadillo," she said, stepping back a bit to look into the hole.  "I can see it."  I could too when I stood where she was.    "I wish I had my gun," she said.

"Hiromi has a gun.  Won't that work?"

"If it's not strong enough, it can ricochet off the shell," she said.  I believed her, after the stories I heard last weekend from my brothers about being able to see sparks if shots bounce off the shell in the dark  (Wesley didn't believe it when I said that at school though).

I went to tell Hiromi, and then had to leave.  After I got home, I heard the rest of the story.

The armadillo had dug itself into the hole head first, and so its posterior parts were facing the opening.  Hiromi didn't think that looked like a good way to get in a kill shot, so he took some clever measures to get it to turn around.

With a garden hose, he flooded the hole, and, sure enough, the armadillo raised its head and turned around.  Hiromi did the deadly deed and left the dead armadillo in the hole and went to work himself.  That night he started preparing to take the carcass out back, when he had a better idea:  Bury that animal right where it was by filling in the hole with the dirt the beast had dug out.  So that's what he did.  I hope we don't regret that.

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Years ago, Marian let me dig up some Oriental Poppies from her yard to transplant here.  Last week the first of them bloomed, and many more will likely bloom this week.  They're so "Marian," (undemanding and sturdy, but blazing with silky beauty in this fleeting bloom season) and I love this reminder of my dear friend.

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The Flowering Quince bush that we planted several decades ago bloomed for the first time  last year, unless it bloomed while we lived elsewhere.  All along, it seemed to have done little more than survive.  By this year it increased markedly in size and we're hoping for a bigger flower show this year than we've ever seen.

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Last weekend Keith Miller was ordained as our new deacon.  His and Miriam's six children range in age from about 3 to about 15.  Keith is the nephew of our retiring deacon, LaVerne Miller.

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Last week I attended a homeschooling event in Partridge.  It was organized by Dalena Wallace, who is a homeschooling mother attending at Plainview.

This event reminded me of how many good times we had with other wonderful homeschooling families in years gone by.  One of the young moms I visited with was a child in the Jung family that we used to interact with.

A state representative from this area, Joe Seiwert, was there and spoke.  I was a bit incredulous that he had never heard of or considered the possibility that homeschoolers  might not all be in favor of school vouchers because of compliance regulations that would presumably be part of the voucher package.  One person in the audience suggested to him that something like a tax credit might be more acceptable.  I'm not holding my breath in hopes that some acceptable option will develop.

I did gain some respect for Seiwert because of his experience with private (Catholic) schooling--his own and his children's.  More than that, however, I respect him for having opened his home as a foster parent to at least eight children.  He and his wife also had three children born to them.

One of the Teaching Parents Association's board members who spoke is the mother of six adopted children.  Her family lives in Wichita.  She was at one time an avowed non-homeschooler--until she realized that her oldest daughter's needs were unlikely to be met otherwise.

Homeschooling is not magic and the people involved are not perfect, but I find it incredibly beautiful to see so many parents who pour as much into their children's lives daily as is required of homeschooling parents.  Children in such families are more blessed than they have any idea.

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Arlene's mother is having serious medical problems right now, and has been hospitalized.  Arlene is Loyal Miller's wife.  Her mother lives in Pennsylvania.  Arlene's parents were here just last weekend when Loyal was in the lot for our deacon ordination.







Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sunday Wrap Up 4/9/2017

Today in church Marvin N. reminded us to notice the beauty of the season.  He mentioned two beautiful things that he observed at home:  the Flowering Crabapple tree in full bloom, and the pair of bluebirds having returned to their nesting box.  That was appropriate, given the somber tone of the morning.

We learned yesterday of the accidental death of 10-year-old Jeremy Yoder, the youngest child of Sanford and Jolene.  His father found him deceased, with a wheel from a small tractor resting on his back.  The scenario Sanford pieced together follows.  As Jeremy was dismounting the tractor to hitch a mower deck to the tractor, the wind may have caused his shirt to catch on a lever that put the tractor in motion.  (The tractor was not in park.)  The tractor lurched and knocked him down.  The tractor moved forward only until it came to a stop when it ran into a building.

The family lives now in Miami, OK (in the extreme NE corner) of the state, close to Labette County, Kansas.  Jeremy was born here, where his parents lived ever since their marriage, until their move to Oklahoma 4 or 5? years ago.  They attended church at Center.  I remember Jeremy as the child who sat on his mother's lap in our Sunday School class before he was old enough to attend Sunday School class with other children.

Shane rented office space from Sanford until he purchased a property of his own.  Jolene's father (Ed Yoder) was one of our ministers until his death.  Shawn, the oldest son in the family was one of my high school students.  Everyone at church could claim many connections to this family, so the death strikes home.

Arlyn N. reminded us that others among us have faced similar grief as a result of untimely death.  His own friend Marvin died when they were both seven or eight.  Even today, his parents talk to Arlyn sometimes about how seeing him reminds them of Marvin.  The death happened more than 30 years ago.  Sarah M. told me during the short prayer time in small groups that we had for Sanford's family that her own 4 1/2-year-old bother died in a farm accident when she was about 12.  I'm sure many of us remembered Andrew's death at the age of 10?, also on a beautiful spring Saturday afternoon 20 years ago.  Dwight M.  spoke briefly about his baby brother's death when Dwight was about 3 or 4 years old.  Dwight's siblings were my students at the time.

For these reasons and because of other things not right in my smaller world, I left church feeling blue.

On the way home, however, Hiromi told me that there were ducks in the standing water in the long skinny rail-side field across the road from us.  He stopped so I could see them when we got there.  They were blue-winged teals.  I had seen shorebirds flying up from a puddle we passed earlier.

This evening when we drove by these places again the ducks were gone, but shorebirds had taken their place in the puddle closest to our drive.  I retrieved the binoculars in the house and walked out to see them again.  I'm no shorebird expert and they're famously difficult to identify, but I enjoyed them even though I couldn't name them.

Other things that make my heart glad:

1.  Our own Sergeant Flowering Crabapple trees, in full bloom right now, and alive with bees.

2.  Monarch butterflies among the  flowers.

3.  Grandsons here yesterday, and seeing their delight with the grape hyacinths in the grass, the butterflies overhead, and the little shovel that I use in my flowerbeds.  They tried it out and wished they had one.

4.  The dwarf or miniature irises that are in bloom.

5.  The tiny little wild pansies that I saw at Linda's house yesterday.

6.  The sandhill plums and wild black currants in bloom, along with the ancient pear trees on our place.

7.  The little blue flowers on the daintiest of vinca ground covers.  I have three or four other kinds--some of them almost obnoxiously overpowering--but not this one.

8.  The school children's pleasure at seeing signs of spring on our Expotitions.

9.  Andrew's spying the first Western Kingbird of the season on the power lines visible from our Language Arts classroom window.

9.  The exit of the woodstove from the corner of our living room.  I liked that stove as long as it was in use.  We've had it since 1982, but ever since Hiromi decided that he wasn't going to use it any more, I have wished to reclaim that corner of the living room for other uses.  Almost three years after we moved back here, the woodstove move finally happened.

10.  A new dishwasher.  We have done without ever since we moved here.  Yesterday we bought a new one, and Hiromi is within one fitting of having it ready to use.  We decided to use a portion of our bigger-than-expected tax refund for this purpose.

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On a radically different note, I've been following the saga of finding a replacement for Samuel Alito on the US Supreme Court.  I was not pleased with the rank partisanship evident in Congress both when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland and when President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch.  Both men seemed well-qualified to me.  Under President Obama, the Republicans were the obstructionists.  Under President Trump, the Democrats were.

To try to remedy the impasse, a new policy was employed.  It's complicated, but essentially, the new standard prevents the use of the filibuster to block confirmation of a supreme court justice, and only a simple majority (50 +) is needed to trigger a vote--instead of the super-majority (60) required previously.  In effect, it neutralizes the opposition of the minority.

I've seen proposals for changing the methods by which Supreme Court justices are appointed, some of which I find appealing.  Here's a link to an article which lays out one such proposal.  This proposal calls for 18-year term limits instead of what is now effectively a lifetime appointment.  Appointments would rotate every two years, which would allow each president to appoint two justices.

I see two main benefits of the above proposal.  One, judges would not be tempted to hang on to their job after their mental faculties have declined in old age.  Two, no single president would be able to pack the court according to his own ideology, in the event that multiple vacancies develop during his presidency.

Making this change would probably require a constitutional amendment--something on which finding agreement would be difficult with the present congressional makeup.

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In two weeks, we plan to ordain a deacon at church.  My brother Ronald will be the speaker for the pre-ordination meetings.

Today we got a handout in church detailing the voting procedure before the use of the lot, assuming that a lot will be needed.  It's a little different than the tradition in the Old Order Amish church, the method in use earlier.  It is basically the same, however, in that it provides for a congregational decision to determine who the candidates for ordination are.  The size of our congregation makes some adaptations seem wise.  In the Old Order church only two votes were required for a person to be included as a candidate.  I remember a time when we used seven as the minimum.  This time percentages are being employed instead of straight minimum numbers.

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Hiromi has a new and growing interest in healthful eating.  I welcome the switch in most ways.  It sure beats what has usually been the case before, although he gets high marks in general for being a vegetables kind of guy, with no big appetite for sweet junk foods.  He's the grocery shopper and if he brings home healthful foods, I'm happy to prepare and help eat them.

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The Kansas MCC sale yesterday and Friday netted over $500,000.  Our church helps with an on-site cookie-baking project.  About 2800 whoopie pies sold yesterday, plus many other kinds of cookies.

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William Hershberger was hospitalized last week with partial kidney failure.  He seems to be doing better now and might come home tomorrow.

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Gideon and Esther Yutzy's third daughter was born last night.  Her name is Honor Naomi.  The middle name is the name of Gideon's mother.



Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Kingdom Story

You know how sometimes something goes round and round inside your head for a very long time, and you wonder if the matter will ever come to rest in any good place?  While you're thinking, you can't excuse yourself from business as usual, and figurative bruises and thumps on the head and raps on the knuckles and punches to the stomach seem more plentiful than affirmations and progress.  I feel that the past year or so has been like that for me in one particular perplexity--trying to identify what constitutes Kingdom business.  Other kingdoms seethe and bubble so energetically that the oil of the Heavenly Kingdom often seems shot through with contamination from below.

The lead-in to the 2016 presidential election was a toxin-contaminated brew.  Unfortunately the pot could not be pulled off the fire, and as surely as labor pains intensify before they subside, this pot boiled all the more furiously as 2016 lurched along to November.

I absconded on November 1 and stayed out of the country till November 13, sequestering myself in a country 50 hours of flights and airports from home.    I saw first-hand the betrayal the Bangladeshis felt when a country they admired elected a leader who had publicly castigated their kind of people.  They didn't seem angry, just sorrowful and perhaps a bit fearful.

I felt betrayal too--not so much by the outcome of the election, but by the behavior and accusations of some of my fellow Anabaptists.  What were they thinking?  The more I heard what they were thinking, the more dismayed I felt.  If they ever understood the historic position of their religious tradition, they weren't affirming it now.  The new position seemed to have been formed without reference to the priorities of the Kingdom of God.  The needle on the moral compass seemed loose and wobbly at its pivot point.

Unfortunately I found it far easier to see what was wrong than to discover what was right regarding these matters.  My father's death made me feel more disoriented than usual. I could have counted on his caring and wisdom if I had been able to talk to him.  Feeling snowed under with work at school, with little time to think didn't help either.

The understandings that have brought some sense of resolution seem so simple to me now that I wonder why I didn't think of them a long time ago.  I'll start here by sharing something along the same lines as what I passed along to my language arts class (going from memory).  At the center top of a paper I wrote "Kingdom of God."  Under it I wrote a term that is often used interchangeably, "Kingdom of Heaven."  Further descriptors followed:  "More powerful than all other kingdoms, Everlasting, Operates by love."

Along the left margin below this I wrote "Kingdom of Satan," followed by synonyms "Kingdom of Darkness, Kingdom of this World (singular)."  Then these descriptors:  "Less powerful than the "Kingdom of God, More powerful than kingdoms of this world (plural), Steals, kills, and destroys, Will be destroyed by God.

Along the right margin at the bottom was another category:  "Kingdoms of this world (plural)."  "Earthly governments" is synonymous.  These kingdoms operate by force.  Here not everything is completely clear to me, but I do know that God is sovereign over these kingdoms.  I know also that earthly kingdoms (or nations) may operate in a stealing, killing, and destroying mode at times.  At other times the principle of love (or goodwill at least) is in evidence.  A nation  never operates entirely according to the realm of God's kingdom or Satan's kingdom, as long as individuals within those nations are not entirely loyal to God's kingdom or Satan's. Earthly kingdoms are mixed kingdoms.

Now, back to the right margin near the top of the page:  "Schleitheim Confession" is the subject of a paragraph there.  Schleitheim is a city in Germany.  The first formative document written by a group of Anabaptists was written there in 1527.  Michael Sattler was the main writer.  In this document, Anabaptists reject involvement in any activity that relies on the use of force.   Quote:  "He [Christ] Himself forbids the (employment of) the force of the sword . . . Christ has suffered (not ruled) and left us an example, that ye should follow His steps."   The contrast could hardly be more stark.  Earthly kingdoms seek to bring about change through the use of force.  In the Kingdom of God, change is accomplished through suffering love.  In the Schleitheim reading, for Christians to seek power in an earthly government is a serious compromise.  It is to walk in darkness.   Quote:  "They wished to make Christ king, but He fled and did not view it as the arrangement of His Father. Thus shall we do as He did, and follow Him, and so shall we not walk in darkness." 

On my "Kingdoms" paper, the first line connected the Kingdom of God with the Kingdom of Satan.  Along this line I wrote that Christians must maintain a complete separation from the Kingdom of Satan.  I stated further that all Christians agree on this, in principle at least. Another line connects the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of this world and runs right through the Schleitheim Confession paragraph.  My conclusion is that if I wish to follow in the way of the the Schleitheim Anabaptists and prioritize the Kingdom of God as they did, I will also choose the way of suffering love and never seek to align myself with the forceful methods of the kingdoms of this world. This carves out an honorable place of rest for me.

That's Part One of my "Kingdom" story.

Schleitheim Confession

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Conversation

Last week I gave my Language Arts students an assignment:  Record a conversation that you've participated in or overheard personally.

If someone had given me this assignment, I would be especially glad for the conversation that happened here yesterday when our four oldest grandsons were here:

Tristan (age 5):  Carson, do you want to be the audient while Wyatt and I throw the ball to each other?  (Carson goes over and sits on the recliner to watch.)

Me:  What is an audient?

Tristan:  It's when a person watches a game.

Me:  Oh, An audience!

Tristan:  No.  "Audients" is a bunch of people.  An audient is one person.

Me:  Oh.  I see.  Well actually, it doesn't make much sense, but you can say "audients" even if it's just one person. And an audience can be listening to a sermon or listening to people sing--doing lots of things besides watching a game.

Later . . .

Tristan:  Wyatt, do you want to take a turn to be the audient?  (Wyatt goes to the recliner, but unlike Carson, he does not sit demurely on the seat.  He reaches down for the lever, flings himself against the back and raises the footrest with aplomb.  His feet do not reach the footrest, but rest happily on the recliner seat while he does what any self-respecting 3-year-old audient would do--watch the game.)

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Learning about exceptions to rules about singular and plural nouns will wait for another day.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Spring Break Post

Today Tristan read to me and his younger brother a book from the library that was over 50 pages long.  Each page had only four or so lines of text, and lots of fun pictures on the pages, but still . . . 50+ pages!  This coming school year he would not be old enough to be allowed to start school at Pilgrim unless an exception were made.  I don't think his parents will challenge the status quo, but probably just keep on putting things in front of him to learn at home.  He's a fortunate child, in my completely unbiased opinion.

This "grandchildren pleasure" during spring break is mixed with a bit of wistfulness about the absent grandchildren.  I'm told that the oldest BD granddaughter is reading books too, but I can't sit down with her to listen to her read.

I make it sound as though reading is the most notable thing a grandchild could do.  Not really.  Each one is delightful in exactly the stage they're in right now.  Today I marveled at the new words the 18?-month-old is saying, and marveled even more at his pleasant interactions with me, and his great muscle coordination and balance as he ran back and forth across the hard floor in his socks.

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Grant is in Texas today, and will be working there for several weeks.  I'm listening with interest to weather reports from there.  Tornadoes are being reported.  Three storm chasers died--not in a tornado, but in a 2-vehicle accident.

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The rains we're getting are pure pleasure.  The weather violence is happening elsewhere, and we've had at least .8 inch of rain today, with a lot more apparently on the way tonight and tomorrow.   I can't guarantee that there will be no runoff, but the ground is thirsty enough that I think it will absorb a lot of moisture before it can't hold any more.

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The most recent issue of Mennonite World Review carried an article reporting on the recent Anabaptist Identity Conference.  Much of the article referenced speeches by David Martin on Mennonites and the Industrial Revolution.  I referred in an earlier post to a piece by Martin on the same topic.  I noted in the MWR article that Martin elaborated on some of the content in the original article.  I think Martin is saying things we really need to hear and learn from.  Here's the MWR article.