Prairie View

Monday, June 30, 2008

Quote for the Day 6/30/2008

When I slipped into bed late . . . or early actually . . . (Those long Sunday afternoon naps come with a price.)

Hiromi: What were you doing? Blogging?

Me: Part of the time.

Hiromi: A really long one? People may get tired of reading long blogs. They may not come back if it takes too long to read.

Me: Nobody has to read my blog. If they don't want to read it, that's fine. If they don't want to come back, that's fine too. It still doesn't hurt for me to have written it.

These sentiments were repeated in different forms at least four times. I wonder if a looming week's worth of vacation time typically makes men chatty at 2:00 in the morning.

Me: That doesn't make any sense.

Hiromi: Well, let's see if it makes sense tomorrow morning.

That was the most sensible utterance of all. But this morning I'm still not sure if it makes sense.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


I can hardly imagine a more meaningful service than the one we had at church this morning. Brent began with a devotional meditation. Then the Oasis Chorale sang during the Sunday School hour and later Arthur preached about the phrase “Under the Shadow of His Wing.” It was as if the Lord orchestrated the service. The main points during Brent’s devotional were a subset of points Arthur intended to speak on in his sermon. Since Arthur got started very late, it was a good thing part of his sermon had already been covered, allowing him to finish in time.

The theme of the Chorale program was “Journey: The Road Home.” For more than an hour the music soared and whispered and lilted and boomed and breathed as the audience mused along with poets, hymn writers, psalmists, and oppressed people of the past. The audience shared in the delight of the journey begun. Then distress intruded, but God gave assurance. Commitment followed, and HOME came into view. With the buildup to the finale, HOME did indeed look very very appealing.

Wendell, who directed the chorale, is a home boy, so the “home” theme allowed him some easy-to-relate-to observations. Kansas is home, but not really. Virginia is home too, but not in every sense. Only heaven is truly home for all of us.

I was Wendell’s co-teacher for three years before he moved away to pursue his master’s degree in music. He was awarded his degree one year ago. Seeing him and Jeanene brought back many warm fuzzy feelings

Other Kansans in the 34-member singing group were “Hobbs” and Gene. And, of course, there were all sorts of connections with others in the chorus. Jotham and Nathan will sing at Shane’s wedding, Kendra’s mother grew up down the road from us. Caroline was the little sister of some of my Ohio students, and her husband Leonard was a child in the home my sister Linda lived in when she taught school in Indiana. Lavelle is the son of my former house mate and co-teacher in Ohio. Lana used to teach here in Kansas. Doreen‘s editor father and I once collaborated with others on planning the program for a Writer’s Workshop Reunion. Three of Howard and Edith’s children sang. Their parents were Calvary Bible School friends. And I met some of the little girls I remember from teaching vacation Bible school in Arkansas. They’re all grown up now.

Present for the program were people from surrounding towns and states who had friends or family members in the singing group. I met people from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Our own church people, on this Sunday, were home from such far flung places as Romania, China, and El Salvador. The Faith Builders students were on the verge of leaving for summer term, but still here today. We did the good Mennonite thing and had a fellowship meal together afterwards.

Arthur began his sermon by giving several pictures of being “under the shadow of his wing.” He described a hen protecting her chicks, and an eagle protecting eaglets in a nest. Then he asked the audience for word pictures that came to their minds. There were eight or ten responses, each of them adding something to our understanding of what it means to be under the shadow of God’s wing.

Then, step by step, we considered together how a person in need of God’s protection might experience His provision. In abbreviated form, when confronted with distress, people usually follow this sequence:

1. Deny the problem or seek to avoid it. If they can move beyond this productively, they--
2. Call out for help. (Understand their need for God.)
3. Endure. (Resolve to be faithful, even if life is difficult.)
4. Rejoice (That God is not limited.)
5. Worship (Find a way to draw attention to God when others are distressed.)

Each of these responses has a counterpart in the levels of spiritual maturity that Brent had referenced earlier. The first response is most typical of a spiritual infant. Added spiritual maturity correlates to better responses, or at least moving more quickly through the stages. The goal is to be so mature in Christ that drawing attention to God’s good hand comes easily very soon after we first encounter distress and need a refuge.

All these truths fit hand-in-glove with the songs of our faith journey we heard in the Sunday School hour. Hearing everything in the presence of such a great cloud of witnesses as were gathered today in the worship service was a deeply satisfying experience. If it had happened on vacation in a lovely desert oasis, I might have written my friends back home Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Church Cleaning

Today our family did our twice-a-year duty and cleaned the church building. That is, all of us but Grant did our duty.

It is not an odious job, but I'd hate to have to do it by myself. Extrapolating from the time it took the five of us, it would have taken one person between 8 and 10 hours. Hiromi has always helped with this job, and our boys are now as good at helping as Hiromi is. 'Today Victor was a great help too.

Our well-organized trustees give us a check-off sheet so that each of us knows when we have done the alloted tasks. We dutifully go down the line, dumping toilet bowl cleaner into clean toilets, spraying disinfectant cleaner on their outsides, sweeping imaginary dirt into invisible piles, and shining clean mirrors. Today I wondered fleetingly Is it possible we're doing this cleaning the wrong week, and someone else has already done it? But several paper towel scraps on the the bathroom floor convinced me that no one had done the sweeping at least. So we forged on.

Sweeping the entrance mats was more rewarding, with sand tracked in from the parking lot rattling noisily into the vacuum cleaner's innards. The sidewalks also sported scattered sand, and the trash cans contained trash. The glass doors at the entrance to the overflow had smudges at toddler height. When we finished, except for the nursery, where a lingering bad odor remained ("I think someone did a poopy in there."--Shane), the place smelled disinfected and looked clean--all but the drink-spill-sized blotches on the carpet in the overflow area.
Flylady (the most helpful housekeeping guru I know of) says you don't have to wait till things are dirty before you clean them. This is obviously the persuasion of all those who do cleaning as a matter of routine. I'm convinced I need more cleaning routines in my life. But I can't quite get past the lingering suspicion that cleaning already clean things is a pitiful waste of time. Maybe some day when I have nothing to clean that is actually dirty or cluttered, I'll try it out, just to see if I've been missing out on any thrills.

In the meantime, I'll take my turn cleaning the church, following the printed list, trusting that whoever made the list is wiser than I about what needs doing, and that being faithful will be rewarded in due time.

My co-teacher Harry's mother, when she tired of all the delays from processing her children's bright ideas about how to improve the cleaning process, used to say she needed from each of her children only two hands, two feet, and no brain.

Two hands, two feet, and no brain. That sounds just like me, cleaning the church. I'm glad that even such stripped-down acts of service and obedience don't go unnoticed by God. For Him, I really should consider engaging that brain occasionally while I'm cleaning. I probably won't sing beautifully like Shane did today And I will have you, and I will hold you. . . . (His brain's on his upcoming wedding.) but singing is something I should think about doing as an accompaniment to cleaning. Maybe I'll have to add it at the bottom of all the other jobs on that printed list. Sing while working.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Outside My Window

I get lots of pleasure from the small dramas that play out just beyond my kitchen and dining room windows.

Yesterday I saw two newly-fledged barn swallows on the clothesline. As Joel said, "They look like a bad-picture version of the adults." The colors are less bright and shiny--somehow just a bit mousy-looking. And the sides of their beaks still have a newly-minted pale yellow tone. But they are gamely trying out their new freedoms and skills. Mom and Dad swoop by and, in a very fast hand-off, stuff food into their mouths. Between times they do a lot of tipping forward and jerking backward, seeming to narrowly avert being upended--repeatedly.

Yesterday the juvenile on the line closest to me tried out the turn-about maneuver. At one point I looked out and saw that he was facing the opposite direction from earlier. Then later, I saw him, with much flapping and fluttering, turn around, three times, in rapid succession. I think he was showing off. Look Ma. See what I can do!

When any of the cats stroll by, the adult birds go into a frenzy of dive-bombing and angry chattering. When I heard a bird fuss yesterday, I looked up to see a perfectly harmless tiny orange and white kitten, just big enough to have ventured out of the nest. It was under the cedar tree with its mother, and looking up as if totally mystified. What makes those silly birds act like that?

This morning the Western Kingbirds that have a nest in one of the trees south of the house were totally panicked about something I couldn't quite see. No cats were in evidence. Then a few minutes later I saw a squirrel hunkered down at the outer end of a large dead branch that got lodged in a horizontal position on its way down. His tail was curved tightly over the top of his back, and he clung tightly to the branch he was on. I would have hunkered down too if I was being attacked by those noisy flying feathered missiles.

One drama I was glad to have missed is the one that happened in the wheat field when Lowell accidentally drove over a litter of kittens with the big combine tire. While we have no need of more cats at the moment, I was sorry for the trauma of the experience. He never saw them until he saw them flattened in the muddy tire track.

Last Saturday Joey had discovered them in the uncut wheat and came in for a box to put them in. We put the box in the garage and waited around till we saw the mother come and claim them. She must have moved them back to the wheat field after that, into a part that had not been cut. Why she thought that was a good place for them is beyond me.

I think there are probably some life lessons in these nature vignettes. Maybe something about providing adequate protection for your offspring--keeping them in a safe place, warding off predators (but discerning rightly between real and imagined threats), and letting them take flight when the time is right, even then offering fly-by support. I'll have to remember these lessons.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Pack" Stories

At the funeral of Pack, our recently deceased neighbor, the pastor told this story:

At church potlucks, Pack used to pick up silverware when he went through the food line. Then, as men are known to do occasionally, he stuck it in his pocket and forgot about using it when someone either handed him silverware or he found it at the table. The silverware he'd picked up would often stay in his shirt pocket and go home with him.

On one occasion when the pastor visited their house on a Sunday afternoon, he noticed the silverware in Pack's pocket, and asked teasingly about it.

Pack's response : How do you expect us to ever get a complete set if you keep noticing it like that?


Another "Pack" story:

At their church, during the summer, the choir does not meet regularly for practice and does not sing at the Sunday service, so music is provided by volunteers. One time the pastor asked Pack if he would be volunteering to sing or play something some time.

Pack said, "Sure. Any time On Top of Old Smokey would go with the sermon, I'd be glad to sing that."


At Pack's funeral, for the very first time ever, I helped with singing this congregational song: On Top of Old Smokey. It's a good thing the words were printed right there on the program or I might have inadvertently gone off on one of the many adulterated versions I've heard. (It's Smokey, not spaghetti; snow, not cheese; true lover, not poor meatball: and acourtin' too slow not when somebody sneezed.) I'm trying to forget the more risque versions buried somewhere in the dark recesses of my consciousness.


Pack's name was the first syllable of his longer German last name. If my first name had been Otto, as his was, I think "Pack" would have suited me just fine. Everyone called him Pack, but it took the new pastor a while to figure out where the strange name came from.


After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Pack and his wife were on a visit to a city in East Germany. On the morning before they were to fly back to Kansas, they decided to look in the phone book to see if anyone in that city had the same last name as theirs. They found the name and called that person. It was a cousin of Pack's, and the contact was the first of many subsequent delightful contacts and a few precious visits.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Shades of Gold

Tonight on my way home from working at school I saw a colorful “painting”to my right, on the east side of Partridge road, just beyond the place where it crosses Morgan Avenue. With my vision only slightly blurred intentionally, I saw a swath of purple in the first field where the alfalfa was in full bloom. A few streams and puddles of bright yellow Plains Coreopsis punctuated the purple. Beyond it, another field of alfalfa, in a different stage of growth, shone a brilliant green. Then gleamed a pale gold field of ripe wheat, which registered in my field of vision as bright yellow. Beyond that was a red-gold burnished field of wheat.

This was the first time that I noticed such a marked distinction in the colors of two side-by-side fields of wheat. I suspect one was a descendant of the Turkey Red wheat brought to this area in the 1800s by Russian Mennonite immigrants. The other must have been white wheat, popular now among some bakers for its high quality flour and the absence of a certain sharp flavor present in red wheat.

A third color of wheat I’ve noticed recently can only be described as gray-gold. It’s found in low spots, where there has been water standing this spring and early summer. I don’t quite understand this mechanism. The heads and stalks have never been even close to being completely submerged, so the gray color is not from muddy water. It must have affected plant growth adversely, and simply registered as plants with a sick color.

A brief shower this morning literally put a damper on continuing with the harvest barely begun last Saturday and halted in our fields over Sunday. But by midday the sun was out and the wind was blowing–perfect harvest weather. Both of Lowell’s combines were hard at work when I passed the wheat field on this farm. Dad was driving the grain truck.

The mud holes need more drying time, so the cutting paths do considerable meandering. The fields are severely rectangular, but there's no use trying to be all neat about the harvesting process as long as there's ripe wheat to cut on drier ground. Dragging stuck combines out of mud holes is a singularly unglamorous job, and to be avoided if at all possible.

Tonight there is a 40% chance of rain. If heavy rain materializes, any shade of gold wheat will be fine, as long as it's already in the bin and not in the field.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Mennonite Among Mayangna Moravians

How does a young Beachy mechanic end up living for eleven years among an indigenous people in Central America, in the home of a native family, at work translating materials for the public health service, (When There is No Doctor) and oh, also the Bible? He helps set up medical clinics too. What kind of vision sustains such a lonely, Herculean effort?

Ben had volunteered to work in Central America, but for the first four months of living in that tropical climate, Ben was sick almost constantly, and he looked forward to going home at the end of that time. He had one native Christian friend though, who had been a soldier during Nicaragua’s civil war. This former soldier talked about a people group who lived in a distant region of the country where he had once been stationed. They seemed needy, and Ben felt a spark of interest in their situation. They were called the Mayangna or Sumu people. They used the name Mayangna among themselves.

Ben was eager to leave the country though and a little afraid that God would make him stay. After considerable struggle, he came to peace about his future when he agreed with God that if a significant contact could be made with someone in the Mayangna population, and if the way seemed open to further ministry among them, he was willing to cooperate with God. Otherwise, he would carry out his plan to return to the United States.

Ben had no one to help him make any connections with the Mayangna. Nevertheless, he and a friend decided to travel to the area and see if something would develop.

After a few days in the area, with no significant contacts, they left by separate routes. Ben boarded a bus, convinced that the way was clear for him to go back to America. On that bus, he took the only vacant seat. It was beside a Mayangna man who was on his way to study at a university in Managua. The man told him that there was no Bible in their language, although many of the people professed affiliation with the Moravian church. When they read the Bible, it was in the Miskito language, another indigenous group that the Mayangna were in conflict with much of the time. Having access to the Bible only in an “enemy” language limited the appeal of its message. The young Mayangna student said though that another religious group had offered to help them acquire a translation of the Bible in Mayangna.

Ben was shocked. He knew the “generous” religious group the student named had some seriously heretical teaching. He felt compelled to do what he was able to do to see that they had access to an unadulterated Bible, without the heresies of the fringe religious sect’s teachings.

On another visit to the region, Ben had a “chance” meeting with a man named Patricio, who was on his way to work in his field. Patricio had a question for Ben. “Where can I get Bible study materials?” Ben learned later that he had listened often on the radio to messages by Luis Palau, and always at the end of the program was an offer to send inquirers printed materials. But Patricio had no idea how he could get those materials. Perhaps he had no mailing address.

Ben was impressed by Patricio’s interest. He had not asked for economic opportunity or any particular favors–only for help to get what he had already been offered. This contact proved invaluable in time to come. Ben attributes his own presence among the Mayangna to God’s grace being extended in response to having heard the longing of Patricio’s heart.

For a non-native, living among the Mayanga was complicated by the fact that they had been relegated to a reservation, and no one outside this people group was allowed to move into the area unless the people on the reservation invited them. The Mayangna did not readily invite people, probably because of having been exploited by outsiders in the past. Through Patricio, however, and his considerable influence among his people, Ben got an invitation to live on the reservation. He lives now with Patricio’s family.

Today when I heard Ben speak, he did not go into detail about everyday life among the Mayangna. My brother Lowell’s family, who often hosted Ben in their home while they both lived in Nicaragua, says that Ben has had an adventure-filled life. But Ben did not paint a picture of himself as a hero. Instead, he spoke humbly, eloquently, and very knowledgeably about the group’s religious history, and his desire to see them understand and embrace the teachings of Scripture.

In one example of how some of the past efforts at introducing religion have gone amok, Ben told about how the Mayangna, who had a polygamous society, made an effort to change to having only one wife. Their practice was for a man to marry one woman, and automatically, all the women in the household also became his wives. When men understood from their religious teachers that they were to only have one wife, they were told furthermore that they should keep only the first wife. But since the first wife was often the oldest daughter in the household, and younger wives were more highly prized, the older wife or wives (?) were often killed, leaving the “righteous” man with only one lawful wife, just as he was told to have. Things like this left no doubt in Ben’s mind that there was a great need for the Mayangna to be able to read and understand truth for themselves, rather than to become overly dependant on an outsider to interpret it for them.

Yesterday, when I first met Ben, he was here helping Lowell get his combines ready to harvest wheat. Ben’s mechanical skills applied to the aging equipment were very welcome. Hiromi invited Ben to the house when he encountered him on one of his forays to the trash bin near the scene of the combine servicing and repairs. Ben came in and stood to visit among the boxes that blocked every seating space in the living room. (I was in the middle of facing down a massive paper clutter monster.) He was very friendly, apparently not easily shocked, and we had a nice visit, standing there among the boxes. I surmised afterwards to Hiromi that any sensible unattached girl that learns to know Ben will find her heart going “pitty-pat.” He was charming in the sense that bright, passionate, grounded, and faithful people naturally are.

Ben is traveling with his family and their favorite animals from Kentucky to first Washington, then Oregon, where they plan to live. Kansas was a stop along the way. Nearly every family member spent some time in the wheat field yesterday, driving or riding the combines or trucks, and generally immersing themselves in the experience of a Kansas harvest.

After the family is settled in their new home, come August, Ben will return to the Mayangna, and the hard work that awaits. There, the harvest moves slowly–no big machines to cut wide swaths and no production records to try to match or exceed. And no money accumulating in the bank when it is over. Only 20,000 needy people, and one persistent, plodding, but gifted young man to do the labor. That young man and those Mayangna people are worthy of our prayers and support.

Thanks to Ben for enlarging our world today and to God, for enlarging our hearts.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hail Bags and Baby Bottoms

Last Sunday morning in Sunday School class Yolie requested prayer for protection from the weather. On the way to church they had seen big "hail bags" in the clouds, and as Yolie said, "No one really needs hail right now." Everyone in the class with a shred of farmer connections sighed in agreement at this understated observation.

I also grinned to myself at hearing Yolie's "hail bags" term--something I had never heard before. Then I realized I didn't really know the proper term for those clouds. I always thought of them in the terms my sister Carol used to use for such clouds: baby-bottom clouds. They do look like squeezable, soft, rounded sculptured shapes--in contrast to their true vicious character. They form on the underside of billowing thunderheads that are often favorable to the formation of precipitation in the form of big ice balls. Apparently there is no official name for this cloud feature. The following site shows a picture of such clouds and calls them "Big bags" or "Mamma" clouds:

Yolie's dairy farmer husband, who I assume uses the "bag" term would feel validated by the information in the following quote from the above site: Beneath these clouds a strange cloud formation often forms, and we in the trade call it "Mamma" cloud, as those down-draft winds cause udder-like protuberances to form under cumulonimbus clouds (often irregular and ragged) which are bulbous - as in the picture above.

With the wheat standing ready for harvest, our persistent rains, often accompanied by the threat of severe weather, make waiting on dry weather a little difficult. But we are all grateful to have been spared so far from flooding and tornadoes and hail, for the most part.

We had a time of more angst than usual yesterday morning when the wind picked up and reached speeds of 50-70 MPH, or even 90 MPH as reported in the next county. With the wind came .8 inch of rain--more in nearby areas. A local feed business suffered damage when the wind blew in an overhead door to the warehouse and soaked feed stored inside. A hopper-style grain bin also lost its moorings and crashed into a display window at the front of the business. The "Welcome to Pleasantview" billboard sign presented an unpleasant view of snapped-off supporting poles and missing sign parts. Nearby greenhouses lost coverings and suffered other structural damage. I heard of two backyard trampolines that became airborne. One of them tore loose the power lines when it slammed into the side of Eldo's house.

The wind blew in around 5:00 AM, before most of us were out checking for any strangely-shaped clouds. I heard the roar and wondered if we should head for the basement but settled for huddling under the covers, praying and listening for the ping or crash of hail along with the roar of the wind. The hail never came, thank God. High winds and baby bottom/mammary-gland-like clouds--Sunday School or no--signal time for prayer petitions.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Accounting Curriculum

Does anyone among my readers have a great idea about how a high school accounting class should be taught?

We need to order new curriculum materials for next year, and are struggling to know what to order. Here are some of the challenges:

1. How do we cover both handwritten accounting and electronic accounting procedures without overloading everyone?

2. Should we consider a business records course rather than an accounting course?

3. Should we stick with generalized automated accounting material, or narrow it down to one specific program like Peachtree, Excel, or QuickBooks?

4. How do we keep it affordable?--site licenses for software--support materials, consumables, textbooks, etc. To get set up next year with one supplier we're considering (Thomson Southwestern) would cost a minimum of $300 for the teacher's materials, and about $100 for each student. The site license will probably cost from $400 to $900.

5. Which system is better--multicolumn or general journal?

I would be glad to hear either from people in business or education. Students too are welcome to weigh in.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Disrupting Class Commended

One of the books I read recently is Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Johnson (McGraw Hill). Oh my. This book adds lots of combustible material to the education fire that I've been warming myself by for many years. I saw a reference to the book in an editorial in our local newspaper and got myself to the Amazon site promptly and ordered this hot-off-the-press book--copyright 2008. It has been all I hoped for.

The lead author, Christensen, is a professor of business administration at Harvard, and has authored other bestsellers on innovation. His basic premise is that technology will drastically reconfigure education as we know it, with the process of change being well underway by 2012, and more than half of all high school classes taught online by 2020.

Technology bringing change to the classroom is not a new idea, and neither Christensen nor I see technology as it's used now in classrooms as particularly revolutionary. For the most part, it facilitates doing faster and better some of the things we've tried to do in the classroom in slower ways for a long time--teaching typing, and requiring typed essays, reports, and research papers, for example. No one I know who uses word processing programs has any interest at all in going back to the days of using typewriters for keyboard practice and for writing documents, or being limited to the old alternative--writing in longhand. Computers have dramatically changed the way we do these small things.

But Christensen is talking about something far more revolutionary. He refers to Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory and envisions computerized instruction that enables each person to study any subject through the lens of their most capable "intelligence." For example, a person with outstanding musical intelligence would have content in every subject area integrated with music in a fundamental, primary way. A nature smart person could learn about math, social studies, and language arts through studying the natural world. Can you imagine how disruptive to the status quo such an approach would be?

Christensen furthermore states that this approach will be developed and used first in "nonconsumers" of traditional educational approaches and products: homeschoolers and charter schools. These groups will be quick to see the potential of these new approaches, and they will make such good use of them that conventional educational institutions will soon be forced to take note and get in line. The author bases some of these predictions on models in the business world where the most innovative solutions to complex problems often cannot be successfully integrated into old structures. They work best if they can develop in a fairly autonomous organization, along new lines. (He cites comparisons between charter schools that have a great deal of autonomy and schools that are far more closely tied to the conventional counterparts in their district. More autonomy equals better results. Kansas so far has only the less autonomous charter schools.) Then, after the system has proven itself, the older educational organizations will be more willing to replace their old ways with the obviously more successful new ways.

What often happens is that efforts to integrate new methods into old structures flounder under the weight of many limiting factors. Turf wars come to mind. If it wasn't invented here, it can't be better than what we've already got. I first understood what Christensen is saying about 20 years before he said it, and I have smarted and grieved over it many times since then. Every school day I saw children who had "intelligences" that seldom intersected with the methods of instruction our school offered. And we could not change to accommodate them. They were consigned to ongoing struggle and a lingering sense of failure, while we continued to run the program.

Christensen is absolutely on target when he says that homeschoolers and charter schools will be the first to benefit from the tailoring that developing technology offers learners of all kinds. I've seen the resourcefulness of these groups of people first hand, and they are professional in the best sense of the word in many of the approaches they use. They have curriculum flexibility that surpasses what is possible in group learning environments. They can further customize the curriculum to suit the best learning modalities of each student in a way that seldom happens in a classroom environment. They are tenacious in pursuing what works, and very clear-eyed about the need to discard what doesn't, no matter how slick the packaging or how good others think it is.

A central understanding to the whole process of educational change is that the emphasis must be on education, not on schools in themselves. Amen and amen. This is so simple, and so commonly overlooked by decision-makers. Too many people think education means bricks and mortar and seat time. What an impoverished conception! Have these people never pursued a single project for the sheer joy of learning about it? I daresay if they have done so, it has, as likely as not, happened outside a conventional curriculum or classroom. Under the hood of a car perhaps, or while holding a fishing pole, or learning a piece of music, or with eyes racing along lines of printed material, or spellbound in the presence of a master speaking about his passion. It doesn't take curriculum and classes to create a spectacular learning environment. Yet, people who think conventionally about education will try first to squeeze innovations to fit inside these parameters.

Christensen sees conventional classrooms on the grade school level as having more inherent flexibility than is typical in high school. They are therefore less in need of alternatives. He also acknowledges that some subjects in high school lend themselves more easily to a classroom setting than others do. In other words, he does not necessarily advocate replacing everything conventional with something new.

Our high school offers a combination of programmed individualized (but almost entirely text-based) instruction and classroom instruction. I think this is a far better arrangement than exclusively doing either one would be. We further open classes to students who are homeschooled for the most part and who wish to take advantage of conventionally-taught classes in some subject areas. Music, composition, speech, Anabaptist history, and some of the practical skills classes are the classes homeschoolers most frequently choose. These options make our school better than most in terms of the flexibility present. But this is not quite good enough.

I, for one, will keep a sharp eye on what homeschoolers are up to, and if they tell me that multiple-intelligence-based computerized instruction is here and working well, I will lose no time in campaigning to see it offered in our high school as an alternative track to a diploma.

It may disrupt class, but I can't think of a better reason for doing so.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Quote for the Day 6/14/2008

Today was Craig and Rachel's wedding. Rachel is a sister to Dorcas, to whom Shane is engaged to be married on August 9.

Shane (this morning, just before leaving for the wedding) : Well, I think if Craig and Rachel decide to back out, I'd be willing to just step up to the plate and make sure all the preparations will not have been in vain.

Me: Well, that would simplify a few things and complicate quite a few others.

Shane: We contemplated--you know when David asks them to come forward to be married--to say "Doff Ich aw kumma? (May I come too?)"

I thought of this today at "the moment" and barely suppressed a giggle.


Many of the Kuepfer family relatives live in Canada, and not all the ones who were here for this wedding will come back for Shane and Dorcas's. So we made it a point to meet as many of them as we could. Because they all knew Shane from his having visited with the Kuepfer clan last Christmas in Canada, it was easy to make connections. I think it will be fun to spend more time with them later over the time of the wedding, and as further opportunity arises.

One interesting thing we learned today is that Dorcas's aunt Judy and Shane's aunt Linda served at FMH in Virginia together more than 20 years ago. Judy had no idea of that connection when she met Shane.


An article in today's local newspaper gives an explanation for the recurrent stormy weather the Midwest is seeing this season. The (a?) jet stream is located high above us, and has been nearly stationary for about a month. When enough moisture is present in the air (It feeds into this area from the Gulf of Mexico.), and two air masses of differing temperatures collide, if the cloud formations build high enough to reach the jet stream, the flowing river of air acts on the "mix" and sets up a rotation pattern. Thus the frequent tornado watches and warnings. In addition, the article said, this pattern will be with us as long as the jet stream is stable above us. So we might have another 30 days or so of this kind of weather--several stormy days and then several calm days again. While this pattern often is present in May in this area, this year it has stayed longer than usual, and shifted the tornado season further into the summer than normal.
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Yesterday, on my way home from town, I could smell that the wheat is very close to being ready to harvest. I wasn't trying to smell it. In fact, I had all the windows rolled up and the air conditioner running. But there it was. That clean, warm, straw-y smell that heralds the harvest. It seems like only a few weeks ago that I looked out the front door of our house and commented on the two-mile-long green "lawn" that began just across the road. Now that "lawn" is a gold shag carpet.

A consequence of the frequent rains, interspersed with sunny days, is the clarity of the atmosphere. The tree row that interrupts the shag carpet two miles away looks nearly as green as the trees in our yard. No dust or moisture in the air colors it gray. It is Fostoria-clear, as a visitor to Kansas once described our air.


Seen today on a truck: Wet basement? What are you wading for?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Problematic Baldness

Grant. Shaved. His. Head. I am so NOT impressed. The head has lumps and bumps heretofore unrevealed. The newly exposed portion has a gray cast due to the paleness of the skin and the dark roots of the severed hair shafts. The rest of his skin is well-tanned. And who knew there were a few pimples lurking underneath that merciful cover of slightly wavy dark hair?

Why did he do this? "Because it's cooler and I don't care how it looks."

"Dorcas [my sister who went through last summer without hair because of chemotherapy] says it's not cooler. It's way hotter because when the sun shines on your head, there's nothing there to insulate it from the heat."

"Insulate it? I've often heard that you lose most of your body heat in the wintertime through your head if it's uncovered." (I think there's something I learned in high school science classes that would have been pertinent to mention at this point, but I couldn't quite get it together--radiant heat always moves toward a cooler object maybe?)

I tried a different angle. "When you got that extreme haircut several weeks ago, I told you never to do that again, especially with Shane's wedding coming up."

"That's two fricken months away. Besides, give me one good reason, besides just that you don't like it . . . "

"Skin cancer. That skin has never seen sunshine before. You could get a lot of damage there in a short time." (Grant works outside all summer long.)

"I plan to use sunscreen till it gets tanned." Puh-leez.

I also told Grant that I hate having to look at that shaved head and that it is very embarrassing. Even while I was saying these things, I knew these were not affirming words or very convincing arguments. But I reasoned that expressing emotion was not entirely off limits either.

Grant has two partners in crime--Justin and Kendrick. Shane, who saw the others when they had a close shave earlier, says only one of them has a well-shaped head. I think they are willingly ignorant of this detail that is apparent to every onlooker.

I think it's a clear case of people in a crowd not being restricted only to the foolishness of their own heart, but each one embracing the weight of everyone else's foolishness and adding it to their own. I think if they could all be relieved of that burden, they would feel lighter. And it would have nothing at all to do with the presence or absence of hair on their head.

I am contemplating a further suitable parental response. Any suggestions?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance

This post is a further rumination on the content of the book I read several weeks ago and referred to earlier: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me).

One of the most helpful insights in that book was the information on cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when we hold in our minds two or more "truths" which contradict each other. When we realize this, the sensation is so unpleasant that we immediately and automatically seek to resolve it by getting rid of the disagreement. Seeing the ways in which we do this is quite a revelation.

For example, a person who thinks of himself as a basically good and decent person cheats on his income taxes by not reporting his earnings correctly. He knows that lying is wrong, and that what he has done is against the law. He has in fact, committed a prosecutable crime. Good and decent people do not commit crimes. Rather than re-labeling himself as a criminal instead of a good and decent person, the cheater justifies his action. He tells himself that he did what is reasonable for a good and decent person to do.

The reasoning may go something like this: I am a good and decent person who works very hard to provide for my family. Even then, there's never enough to cover all our expenses. The Bible says that a person who does not provide for his family is worse than an infidel. I don't want to fall into that category, so I'm sure it will be OK for me to keep the money the United States government says rightfully belongs to them. Spending it for my family's benefit saves me from falling into the infidel category which the Bible condemns. I am being good and decent while refusing to pay what the government says I must pay. The cognitive dissonance has been resolved.

Having reached resolution of the cognitive dissonance has some predictable effects.

One predictable effect is that events leading up to the resolution of the dissonance are then reinterpreted in light of the "new understanding." What I am doing now about my taxes is completely justifiable. Come to think of it, that time I cheated on a math test in ninth grade was justifiable too. I would have disappointed my parents if I had failed it. They would not have felt honored by a son who failed math tests. The Bible says we are to honor our parents. Cheating on the math test so I could pass it was definitely more right than failing it would have been, because of how it would have affected my parents. As this process gathers momentum, finally nothing done in the past is seen as having been wrong.

Another predictable effect is that future actions are based on the new "truth" that came out of the cognitive dissonance resolution process. The reasoning may go like this: What I did about my taxes was completely justifiable. If cheating on my taxes was justifiable, I can justify stealing from my employer for the same reason. I need the money to provide for my family and avoid being worse than an infidel. He isn't paying me as much as I'm worth anyway, so if I inflate my reimbursable expenses, I can pocket the difference and it will come out more fairly anyway. A person reasoning this way is well on his way to justifying anything at all that he wants to do in the future.

Resolving the cognitive dissonance in this way has created an individual who sees himself as having been nearly perfect in the past and nearly unassailable in the future. He can act without restraint and he will still see himself as a good and decent person. This shift in perception and behavior explains how a person who started out well can go very far astray.

All of us can think of people who have gone down this road--the unfaithful spouse (His inadequate wife drove him to it.), the promiscuous teenager (Her father mistreated her.), the irresponsible student (School is just too stressful.), the unemployed husband (He can't find a job that challenges him.), etc. Worse, all of us can probably see in ourselves the tendency to resolve cognitive dissonance unproductively and dishonestly.

Recently when Marian and I were talking about this book, she compared it with a book she has read: Lies Women Believe. It exposes Satan's lies, and God's truth that counters those lies. Resolving cognitive dissonance by substituting a lie for the truth is never right. The man who cheats on his taxes ought to recognize his dishonesty as sin because this understanding is consistent with Scripture. The truth is that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Cheating on taxes is evidence of wickedness--not goodness and decency. He could resolve the cognitive dissonance productively by recognizing his sinful tendency, repenting, and seeking restoration with God. The new "truth" would serve him well--My heart is capable of great wickedness. That is the basis for my wanting to cheat on my taxes. That's why I cheated in ninth grade. That's why I will likely be tempted to cheat again in the future. I must be on guard against indulging my sinful tendencies.

Immorality is sin, regardless of how others tempt or mistreat a person. Disobedience to parents, laziness, untrustworthiness--all these are things to repent of and seek God's forgiveness for. They are not to be reevaluated and reinterpreted till they appear benign. Scripture teaches us the truth about these matters.

The author of Mistakes . . . does not write from a Christian perspective. He does, however, do a wonderful job of observing and describing how things are. In doing so, he illuminates truths from Scripture. Having seen more clearly than before how the way I choose to resolve cognitive dissonance can help or hinder me, I pray for the grace to be discerning, and especially to believe God's truth and reject Satan's lies.

I know already that if I ever write a book about my experiences, I will have to give it the following title: Mistakes Were Made (by me).

Sunday, June 08, 2008


I am mortified. Today was Hilda and Norma's graduation celebration. We had every intention of attending--next Sunday. Although early in the week I had this Sunday in mind, somehow yesterday I had a moment of "truth" when I decided it could not be this weekend. I can't remember when I decided this--maybe when I was thinking Joel was not going to be home, and I knew he would not miss his girlfriend's graduation party.

I can't blame other people if they fail to understand how I could forget things like this. I don't understand it either. But it does add credence to the request I made of Hiromi yesterday to help me with organizing the things that need doing, because I am not doing well at recognizing them myself and being specific about what needs to happen.

When Joel hurried over to Hilda's house after he got home from KC, I merely thought he was eager to spend time with Hilda. If he had mentioned the party at all, I would still have had time to get ready the flowers I promised to provide (but barely), and collect the little tables I was going to bring for the children. Instead I went and took a nap. I didn't catch on that it was today till Joel got home again around 11:00 and said "Weren't you going to get flowers ready for today?" The horror commenced at that moment and grew for many more minutes.

Oooooooh! So embarrassing. And disappointing. And incredible. I've been noting all the lavender flowers in bloom ever since Susanna asked me if I would make several bouquets. Today I was mentally choosing vases and arranging the flowers.

I even checked the invitation today to find out the time when the event started. How I failed to see the date is beyond me. It's been in plain sight under the clear plastic covering on the dining room table ever since it arrived. Some of us obviously need reminders to check our reminders.

I hate being forgetful. I especially hate it when I disappoint other people with my forgetfulness.

I'm sorry is the beginning of a proper response to this mortifying kind of mistake. And, once more, I'll try to tighten up the routines to keep this kind of thing from recurring. Inside though, I know that, this side of heaven, I will never manage it perfectly. I am too flawed for that. I cast myself on the mercy of God and friends and family.

I hope, if anyone still fears that reminders offend me, they will reconsider, and offer me as many reminders as they want. I will appreciate it more than they will ever know.

Hope for African AIDS Victims

I learned today about an impressive ministry to HIV-positive Christians in Kenya. It was founded by Trevor and Regina. Many members of Regina's family are part of our congregation. She and her family were here last weekend to gather with other family members. I learned about this ministry from Regina's mother, with whom I was visiting after church today.

Regina is HIV-positive, thanks to her first husband having contracted it through tainted blood, which he was given in a transfusion because of hemophilia. She has benefited from drugs that keep full-blown AIDS from developing, and understandably has a big heart for the many people who do not have access to such drugs. Regina and Trevor spent a lot of time looking, and finally found a pharmaceutical company willing to provide the drugs for $750.00 per patient, per year. Even that reduced cost is far out of reach for most Kenyan AIDS sufferers. People who get the drugs through regular channels pay $1200 per month.

Thirty-five people in Kenya are on this program. All the people on the program are members of one of the Anabaptist churches in the country. They narrow the potential recipients to this pool of candidates for two reasons: the drugs are unlikely to be effective long-term if promiscuous behavior continues, and people who want to benefit must be responsible about taking the drugs as prescribed. They expect that the people most likely to meet this criteria are people who are part of a disciplined Christian brotherhood. Children who grow up in intact Christian families--with infected parents spared by the drugs, in turn, are far more likely to be well-provided for, with nourishment and good training. It offers hope that the cycle of poverty and illness can be interrupted, with long-term culture-changing potential.

I have not seen a loved one suffering from AIDS, and hope never to have to witness this. Regina has, and I'm blessed to see how the experience has prompted her to reach out to others in the same situation. Her husband's compassion and business expertise are an essential part of this worthwhile ministry also.

I would be glad to help anyone interested in contributing to this ministry make connections with Trevor and Regina. It's one of the most hopeful things I've ever heard regarding American Christians impacting AIDS victims in Africa.

Quote for the Day 6/8/2008

Jared (Joel's Friend)--trying to offer comfort : Let's think about this, Joel. Have you ever in your life failed a test?

I might have asked--but never did--"Have you ever in your life gotten anything but an "A" on a test?"

Joel was stressing about his upcoming Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) test in Kansas City. It is offered only once a year, and he was freaked out after learning that only half of the people who take the test pass it on their first attempt. More worrisome was the fact that he was scoring in the low 70's on the practice tests he took. So he did the only sensible thing and studied like crazy. For a number of weeks he restricted himself only to weekend social events, and used evening and night hours to study. He didn't start until after he got back from Bangladesh in February, so the expected full year of study between levels was already cut short for him. Scores on his practice tests inched up gradually, and he found the actual test easier than he expected. He will not find out how he fared for a number of weeks, probably.

One of the prerequisites for taking the test is having a Bachelor's degree, so studying for this exam is probably on the level of post-graduate work. People who become certified as a member of the CFA Institute after passing all three levels can apply to become a registered investment adviser, for example. If the application is approved, they can provide a variety of financial services and charge for it-- something Joel has been asked to do informally and has never charged for. The CFA designation is a professional one, not a legal one conferring any specific rights. People with this title have done rigorous study on the decision-making skills in the investment process and have agreed to abide by specific standards of professional and ethical conduct.

After Joel finished the test, he made his way to my sister Carol's place in Shawnee, just this side of Kansas City, and spent the night there, before driving the three and one-half to four hours home today. He hurried over to Hilda's house almost right away so I haven't talked to him much since then.

We're all glad he got most of this studying out of the way before Hilda got home from Faith Builders. A month from now she will return there to finish up with a one-month summer term, so having this window of time free of outside pressure is welcome.

Mom's 80th Birthday

My mother turned 80 on June 2. We had a family celebration on Friday with a barbecue and potluck in Marvin and Lois' backyard.

It was a rare and lovely evening, cool and clear with a light breeze. Ever the consummate "occasion" planners, Marvin and Lois arranged for everyone to present Mom with a rose--home or florist-grown--with a note attached. Ahead of time, with a nail clipper, Grant busily clipped off the multitude of thorns from the rose he plucked from our yard. Bryant, Andrew, and Diana got their roses from the yard of their piano teacher, who lives in our house on Trail West Road. I planted those roses, and knew immediately which one would smell the loveliest. Andrew, who usually carries out his missions intensely and promptly, gave Grandma his rose immediately upon arrival at the party. Because I forgot to remind him before he left, the content for Joel's note arrived by email from Kansas City where he had gone to take the test for Level 1 of his Chartered Financial Analyst certification. The rest of the rose-with-card presentation came off according to plan.

After the food preparation was done, we gathered inside and retrieved our roses and then marched out the front door and lined up at the side of the house. Those at the head of the line began singing Happy Birthday as we all trooped into the back yard and formed a circle around Mom and Dad and Aunt Lizzie who were visiting till the meal was ready. One by one each person stepped forward and read aloud from their card as they handed the rose and card to Mom.

Ahead of time, Lois had prepared a window box to receive the roses. The bottom held saturated floral foam topped with bright green moss in which stood a forest of baby's breath. Each rose stem was stabbed into the "forest" and the whole thing served as the centerpiece on the serving table. It went home with Mom and Dad afterwards.

We all sat at tables, each topped with a white cloth. Serving as a centerpiece for each table was a grouping of clear glasses, decorated on the outside with a stem of flowers and greenery tied onto each glass with twine, and each containing a tea light. The flames flickered as expected, but, protected as they were from the breeze, they stayed lit--a great touch of class for a backyard party.

When it got nearly dark, Benji started a small fire in a designated spot near the periphery of a huge spreading oak tree in the back yard. The NE breeze obligingly carried the smoke out from under the high leafy canopy and toward the small ripening wheat field across the street and SW of the yard. The more sedate among us sat and watched the fire while the restless ones did things like jumping on the trampoline.

No one needed stitches this time, but Joseph ended up with his front teeth bleeding after an encounter with Andrew's head. The head was fine. Go figure. Earlier Dad had a surprise when the chair he sat in to eat silently tipped itself over backwards from having been placed in a spot where runoff from an earlier scrubbing job had softened the ground. He gathered himself together, we moved the table several feet west, and he was apparently none the worse for the experience. Obviously, the evening lacked perfection in every detail, but it still felt wonderful.

Not everyone gets to celebrate their parents' 80th birthday, and we are grateful to have the privilege. Earlier, I thought my mother was unlikely to reach this milestone, especially during a time about ten years ago when she was very sick with pneumonia. I think she has stayed relatively well by taking better-than-average care of her health in recent years. She has fibromyalgia and now, diabetes, and walks carefully to avoid tripping and falling. But she feels well most of the time and works in her flower and vegetable gardens a lot, resting when she gets tired. Every day she exercises with the help of a chi machine, and takes an assortment of food supplements. She watches her diet, measures and records her blood sugar every morning, and knows how to cook well-balanced meals--minus the decadent accompaniments many younger people have grown accustomed to. Her food repertoire includes an assortment of ethnic foods, learned from international guests and traveling family members--Salvadoran, Japanese, and Indian.

My mother has never had public prominence as my father has. But I can't imagine anyone better suited to mother the 12 children God gave her and Dad. With the same kind of opportunities I have had, she could have been a good writer and teacher, and sometimes I think it's unfair that she did not have that opportunity. She is smart and gracious and well informed on a great variety of matters. Most people probably don't know that because most of her life has been lived behind the scenes, invested in supporting her husband's ministry and nurturing her family. Through them, she is part missionary, professor, pastor, nurse, teacher, farmer, builder, travel agent, business manager, landscaper, seamstress, cook, homemaker, pastor's wife, and writer. Each of those vocations represents the growth of a seed our mother planted as we were growing up. Certainly we also benefited from our father's input and other people's investments, but that is another story.

On my card, I wrote about having acquired many practical skills through my mother's teaching and example, noting that, in cooking and gardening particularly, she was more artistic than most. I treasure what she taught me.

I'm glad Marvin and Lois had the vision for nudging all of us to "give her flowers while she's here" by planning this celebration for Mary Elizabeth (Beachy) Miller--Wife, Mom, and Grandma. In a week when I've seen four parents buried by their grieving families, it's so much more pleasurable to be celebrating a birthday than planning a funeral.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Quote for the Day 6/7/2008

My sister Lois told us last night about a conversation she overheard between her son Dietrich (8) and his cousin Diana (5). Diana had just told Dietrich a joke, one which had apparently provoked laughs when others told it.

Dietrich: I don't get it.

Diana: I don't either.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Quote for the Day 6/5/2008

Grant (who had filled a plate for supper and started eating) : It's all coming back to me now.

Me: What?

Grant: Why I'm not hungry. At Brents I ate two hamburgers and some chips. At Grandpas, Grandma gave me a bowl of chicken noodle soup. So that's why I'm not hungry. I think I'll put this in the fridge for tomorrow.

Grant can stow away lots of food, but he actually has a rather strange relationship with it. He can skip meals and hardly notice. When he was younger, we learned that if we didn't make it a point to find him and shepherd him through the food line at church potlucks, he just might not remember to eat till after the food was almost all gone.


The line of severe storms has moved east, and left us largely unscathed. We had rain and wind, but no hail or tornadoes.

Thank God.

More Tornadoes?

The weather hazard level report for this evening reads like this:

VERY SIGNIFICANT RISK OR IMPACT. Could potentially injure and/or kill the most people and/or result in catastrophic property and economic damage.

The weather story text says: A severe weather outbreak is anticipated this afternoon through tonight across the central/southern plains and portions of the midwest. Very large hail, damaging winds and the potential for a few strong/long-lived tornadoes will be possible. Storms will move rapidly to the northeast at around 50 mph.

Not good. Downright scary, in fact. We are squarely in the center of the "red" area on the weather maps, where the most severe weather is likely. In the southwest, things already look sinister. I want to say to God, or to anyone listening "Enough already," loud and clear, but it comes out like a whimper. No hint of authority, because I know I have no authority. I cling to the only right I have--the right of petition.

I came by a field today where Grant was raking hay for Jared. The hay was beautifully green, and I breathed a prayer that they'd be able to get it baled before the storm arrives. Now, I suspect that rained-on hay may be the least of all our worries before this is all past. The wheat is ripening--a beautiful crop so far, but more than once I've seen fully ripened wheat pounded into the ground by a hailstorm at harvest time.

I just returned from town where I had called at the funeral home and then stopped at the library. Everywhere people talked about the wind and the storms slated for tonight.

I picked up two books at the library. One of them is Porch Talk. I'm taking it to the basement fruit room with me tonight when we need to take cover underground. It's large print, so I think I could even read it by candlelight. It should help take all our minds off whatever is happening outside.

Joel just reported that northwestern Reno County has a tornado warning now. I think I have more urgent things to do than continue this post.

Pray for us.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Too Many Funerals

Yesterday I attended the second funeral in five days. It was the funeral of David M. Miller, the last surviving member of my grandparents' generation. He was my Grandfather Miller's brother, and died at the age of 92. His own father lived to be 96. Other people called my great grandfather Davy Dawdy. When we said Davy, we were talking about my great uncle. Dad always called him Uncle Davy.

Great uncle David was named for his father, David J. My father, David L. was named for the same man, his grandfather.

David M.'s next-to-youngest son, Ellis, was my classmate all the way through grade and high school. He was my age, but my father's first cousin. He is now the principal of the public grade school in Partridge. The youngest son, Nathan, attended Sterling College at the same time I did, and we used to carpool together with my sister Carol. He was a close friend to my brother Myron and preached at his wedding.

One of the interesting things I learned at his funeral was that David was in the lot for five different ordinations, but was never ordained. His father was a deacon. His father-in-law, Peter Wagler, was a deacon in the Amish church in this community. His brothers-in-law, Willie Wagler and Mahlon Wagler served in our church, but David and his wife Laura were charter members of the Plainview Conservative Mennonite Church established just before 1950. Only one other charter member remains.

David left his mark on the community in many good ways. He was a school board member during the founding of Elreka school, the grade school everyone in my family attended. Later, he served on the board after consolidation with other schools into a larger district. And then one final time, when part of the consolidated district transferred into the Haven district, he served on that board. He was also on the founding board when Mennonite Manor was built.

Two of David's sons, Harold and Nathan, have served for extended terms as directors for Rosedale Mennonite Missions. Another son, Kenneth, worked as a teacher under Northern Light Gospel Missions for a number of years and now is a local pastor. The other son, Norman, is a chiropractor in Indiana.

Among his grandchildren are two who could not come for the funeral. One is in Tibet and the other in Afghanistan. Neither one is associated with the military. Another grandson, Jeremy, preached at the funeral.

David was known for his wise counsel. His children remember many phone calls from their bishop seeking his advice. His speech was deliberate, and, even in his final days at the nursing home, laced with wit. His nickname there was "Ornery." Yet he was a master of understatement, and often provoked laughter as much by what he left unsaid as by what he said.

At the funeral, Nathan told how his father, at the age of 84, stood with other family members at the top of Pike's Peak and, as they were enjoying the view together, he said something like this:
"Wow! From here you can see . . . .quite a ways."

As Nathan said, "He was on the brink of making a bold declarative statement, but pulled himself back from the precipice just in time."

Nathan also described how his father would proceed when one of his sons needed a spanking. He took the offender to the garage (usually Norman, according to Nathan) and sat on a three legged stool among the wrenches, bench grinder, and other tools, and explained why the offense was serious. Then he said that he was responsible to punish wrongdoing, and that God would punish him if he was not faithful in his responsibility. After the spanking, he and his son prayed together, for forgiveness, and to ask for help to do better.

On one memorable occasion, the family dog had not been locked out of the garage during one of these punishment sessions. His protective instincts kicked in and he took up the cause of the child being punished by sinking his teeth into David's leg, drawing blood through the fabric of his denim overalls. That time David gave two spankings--one to the boy and one to the dog.

One of David's age mates, John Mast, is a retired bishop in the Amish church David and Laura left nearly 60 years ago. The fact that John and David remained good friends through all the intervening years is a testimony to the grace with which both of them lived their lives.

Solomon said it is better to go into the house of mourning than the house of feasting. I do not particularly enjoy going to funerals. Yet I understand something of Solomon's sentiments. Being able to join in the thoughtful celebration of a life well lived, while reflecting on the sober realities that affect all of us, really is better than having spent the day in feasting, with its accompaniment of merriment and heedlessness.

Tomorrow I plan to attend yet another funeral. Myron is to be a pall bearer at this funeral for our retired farmer neighbor, who was Myron's employer for many years. He was a member of the church in Partridge, but was never overtly religious. I know this funeral will be different. I'll soon find out how different. The pastor who will conduct this funeral sat in the row in front of me at David's funeral. I wonder what he was thinking.

The public life of the neighbor and David were parallel in some ways--both good farmers and neighbors and public servants. But I suspect their private lives were very different. I think only David led his family in worship every morning and read his Bible every evening and then knelt beside his bed to pray, and only David disciplined his children with a keen awareness of his responsibility before God to do so.

My neighbor was a veteran and will be buried with military honors. I don't begrudge my neighbor's family any honor their father receives. I know their pain at parting is real, and I pray for their comfort.

What I will do further is try to be thoughtful--as three funerals in seven days ought to prompt me to be. I haven't decided yet whether I will attend the funeral of another neighbor and friend on Friday. That would be four funerals in eight days. I'm not sure I'm capable of being quite that thoughtful.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Quotes for the Day 6/2/2008

After I had touted to Shane the many uses for a new cleaning tool I had just received in the mail--

Shane (showing Dorcas the tool) : It'll do anything. It'll even pick your nose for you.

Me: I did not say that.

Shane (later, about Dorcas) : I tried to pick her nose with it. It didn't seem to work very well.

I'm pleased to know that Dorcas recognizes a bad idea when she encounters it, and acts accordingly when necessary.


On Thursday evening before my Aunt Mary's funeral in Kalona, Iowa, more than 200 young people gathered to sing at the wake. (Lovely harmonic singing, by the way, nearly all in German, without notes or a song leader.) Later, my other aunt Mary, thinking about how hard it already is to find farms for all the people who want them--

Mary: What will happen when all these young people get married?

Joe (her husband) : Babies.


My dad, who is 80, drove all the way to NE Iowa and back--about 9 hours each way. Ironically, when people heard we had traveled together, they assumed I had brought my parents. Hardly.

Dad (while getting out at a rest stop) : When I get out of the car, my motions remind me of old people.


At the tail end of a conversation in which another person had talked about having taken a detox treatment which involved putting your feet into a basin of treated, recirculating water (I hope I understood this right). The user reported that the water turned very dark from the toxins drawn out through the feet by this process.

Joe: I wonder what would happen if you stuck your tongue in there.

Me: Full of deadly poison as the tongue is, right?

Joe: Right.