Prairie View

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Diagnosis of Greed

I didn't dream that an innocent decision to study healthcare reform would make me feel this angry. (I'm trying to remember the "Be ye angry and sin not" injunction from Scripture.)

Unlike the students at Pilgrim, I didn't actually have to prepare both a written and an oral report on the subject, so I'm not upset over having to do any assigned task. I guess I'm just upset with the way things are, especially with what I see more and more as being a system that is broken because of greed and thirst for power on the part of some of the principal players in the healthcare drama. If I hadn't done so much reading and thinking on this, I'd be more comfortable and quiet. And more ignorant.

"Principal players" here does not refer to most healthcare practitioners, and not to politicians particularly. I don't even know the names of the people I'm angry with, and they probably don't look like monsters. Certainly they do not know or fear me--or care one whit about me, or you. But I hold them responsible for the death of some of my friends, and for the suffering of many others I've known. They have done this by several nefarious means.

Chief among the offenders, as I see it, are people in the pharmaceutical industry. Simply put, they have little to gain from finding cures for disease, and great wealth to gain from chronic illnesses for which doctors will prescribe drugs that never quite do a good enough job to make taking them unnecessary. "Cures" found in nature are anathema to these people because they can not be turned into profit for them. So they do their best (or worst) to keep them off the market. And they keep on offering expensive medicines to those of us who don't know any better, while they go off to Germany or elsewhere to have their own cancers treated.

Drug manufacturers have no law enforcement powers, but they have very good friends who do. In the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are many people who used to work in the pharmaceutical industry, and vice versa. It's a cozy arrangement where people try to take good care of their friends. Everyone else "loses" while these people are looking out for each other. Deliberate disinformation campaigns have been reported by former agents. They also report having been told to participate in suppressing damning evidence that their own approved products are ineffective or harmful. The more effective the competing product, the swifter and harsher the retribution.

The bottom line is that if the FDA has not approved a substance, it is against the law to assert that it has any effect on any disease condition. All manner of evidence may have been documented, but no one has a right to talk about it or sell as a health aid any of the substances involved. People who have done so have had their offices raided and all their records and possessions confiscated or destroyed. Some of them have been financially ruined while paying to defend themselves in court. They have paid fines, gone to jail, or been murdered. Many of them have left the country. Meanwhile prescribed poisons are regularly foisted on many who have no clue how slender is the thread of beneficial effect and how certain is the matter of deleterious side effects. But in the pocketbooks of pharmaceutical company executives and shareholders all is well as long as this situation continues.

I really don't want to think about this, but things seem to have gone awry too at some of the organizations that are big names in cancer research. One former researcher at Sloan-Kettering tells about his delight at having been hired there--to do a job he had always dreamed of. He loved his work and was genuinely excited when he saw evidence of an effective cancer treatment--a natural product. He prepared a press release on the findings, and then could not believe what happened next. Not only could the news not be publicized, but new "research" was done to disprove the effectiveness of the product. He saw up close how the results were manipulated in preparation for publishing Sloan Kettering's version of the product's efficacy. What was finally released was news that the product had been tested and found to have no effect.

Before he was fired, however, he did a lot of research, and discovered that people on the board of that highly regarded institution had many ties to media venues, pharmaceutical companies, and regulatory agencies. He saw clearly that many people had a lot to lose if cancer could be cured quickly, and they were very careful to protect themselves against such losses. The market for many currently prescribed chemotherapy drugs would dry up, as would the need for thousands of people who work in cancer research and drug delivery jobs.

Interestingly, many officially discredited natural products have actually been patented. In order for a patent to be granted, the product must be proven to work as the patent applicant says it does. A lot of work goes into preparing documentation that a product does what the applicant claims it does. So the patent office, by granting a patent, often directly contradicts what is being publicized elsewhere. In other words, while the FDA or Sloan Kettering are saying something doesn't work, the patent office is saying the evidence shows that it does work.

This is possible because many of the limitations at the FDA do not apply to the patenting process. For example, a single product that reportedly alleviates arthritis pain, protects the heart, and relieves headaches can be patented if the effects can be proven. But if the FDA approves a drug, it will be labeled for treatment of only one condition, unless the whole million- dollar-plus testing process is undertaken for another disease condition. And it's against the law to prescribe it for an off-label use. The side effects must be listed, the LD50 must be determined, and the one-product/one-disease connection must be established. These three requirements for FDA approval hardly ever can be determined for any natural product that people want to use therapeutically, so it's a moot point to consider a natural product suspect if the FDA has not approved it. It might simply mean that it has no side effects, it will not at any dosage kill half of the research animals(the Lethal Dose for 50% of the research subjects--LD50), and it alleviates more than one health problem.

I won't go into how lawyers enter into the villainous "principal players" equation. They are not all alike, of course. However, those who file dubious malpractice lawsuits in hopes of being paid a hefty share of any money awarded are as guilty of greed as anyone.

In recent weeks I've learned that a friend who has breast cancer plans not to seek conventional treatment. Not surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation--only natural means. I'm a little afraid for her. But I've heard recently too from another friend who made the same decision a number of years ago. She is well today. I remember too the husband of my former student who has lived for years with prostate cancer. His wife told me that they are using natural means to address the problem. I haven't heard recently how things are, but I do know that he has survived so far.

I have always thought it wisest to seek conventional cancer treatment, as well as adding whatever natural remedies that seem prudent. But I know now that I will need wisdom beyond what is offered through "official" sources to know what is really driving the treatment recommendations I hear from those sources. Granted, following the money trail is not always easy to do, and discerning the motives of those who make a lot of money is even more difficult to do, and I would have to commit to a "due diligence" process to sort things out. If I came to understand that greed, in fact, is hidden behind an offer of a high-priced drug with questionable benefit and certain side effects, I might have the courage to look right past the prescribing doctor to the greedy supplier and say politely to the doctor, "Thank you for your help, but I'd like to consider all my options before I decide what to do."

Who knows how many more prayers I would offer, how many more 80 minute documentaries I might have to sit through, how many more medical school textbook chapters I would have to examine, and how many more 483 page books I would have to read? People who have gone the natural route for cancer treatment have felt more than a little beleaguered by the decision-making process involved. I'm sure I would feel the same way. But, from this vantage point, I think I would rather be inconvenienced in that way than blindly trusting my well-being to people who have shown themselves to be more concerned about profiting from my disease than finding a cure for my disease.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Quote for the Day 10/23/2009

Talking about the menu for one meal at the youth retreat:

Unidentified Youth: We're having subs. That's pretty standard.

John??: At least it's not substandard.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Blurb Post

I have some deeper subjects not far below the surface of my writing impulse, but lack the focus and persistence to address them because it would mean first having to sweep aside the myriad mundane details that interfere. This will be a blurb post, full of references to the mundane. Scattered thoughts from a scattered brain.


Today is my father's 82nd birthday. He celebrated it by preaching the sermon in church this morning. A few times he paused longer than usual, and his notes no longer fit on one 3 x 5 card like they used to. But he still speaks truth in an easy-to-listen-to manner.


I've been noticing something about most of the over-80 crowd during the past year. They speak at lower decibels than they used to. I wonder why. Less lung capacity? Weaker diaphragm muscles?


Ever since attending the ACSI (Christian School) convention, my head is full of the Excellence in Writing system for teaching writing. This approach has a lot in common with the 6 + 1 Writing Traits, but seems to be more specific in the "how-to-do-it" department, with the 6 + 1 Writing Traits focusing more on the "what-does-it-look-like?" part of good writing. I'm pondering how to get to some of their 3-day workshops. The one that really looks wonderful to me is the one in North Carolina next summer where the founder and current director of the project will be speaking. It's for advanced users of the method, and I probably won't qualify, unless I go to a basic seminar first.

I'd like to have an excuse to visit my sister Dorcas who lives in North Carolina. Our school has continuing education funds available that I have never used.


Two of my high school composition class students won ribbons at the poetry contest that was part of the annual Partridge celebration. Congratulations to Tim Shenk and Seth Yutzy.

I'm proud of all my students who entered the contest, after producing these poems on short notice. I told them they were due on Wednesday, after beginning teaching poetry writing only on Monday. This belated flurry of activity was because of a long list of misfortunes involving missed announcements, wrong information on deadlines, heart attacks of relatives--necessitating a quick exit on the part of one of the judges, etc. I have a promise from one of the organizers that next year I'll get a special notice in plenty of time. I didn't request that, but appreciate the gesture.

I don't consider myself an accomplished poet, or a good reader of poetry, but I'm always surprised by how much I like it when I spend time focusing on it. My old Sound and Sense poetry writing textbook from college is a wonderful resource, as is a poetry anthology one of my profs gave me. Her name is still on the front page. I think it was a sample she got from a publisher who hoped it would be adopted as a text for her class.

I don't suppose I'm really qualified to speak for them, but my students seem to have actually enjoyed this writing endeavor, to some extent at least. They used some good poetic devices.


Last week I had a good conversation with our principal, Wesley, on poetry. His college major was Literature, so his brain is worth picking on this subject. I especially liked what he had to say on the merits of rigid forms in poetry. He understands that these forms have limitations, but he doesn't subscribe to the idea that poetry is better when it is devoid of such forms.

Wesley told about a poetry event he attended last summer in which a retired local college writing teacher spoke about poetry, and read some of his own writings. He was dismissive of the archaic language and forms of poetry characteristic of some of the British poets who lived in recent centuries. "That kind of poetry takes a lot of explanation [before it can be understood]" he said.

Then he read his own poetry. It was written in free verse, with the meaning unclear until he explained it. Wesley's comment: "I sat there thinking Your poetry takes a lot of explanation."

I believe that most aspiring poets will write their best poetry if they learn to lean heavily on two reference books--a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary.

When language must be as concentrated as it will be in good poetry, diligent effort in finding just the right word is essential. Every word in a poem must work hard, and if it sounds just right and, better yet, is freighted with several appropriate meanings, it probably won't be the first one that pops into the writer's head.


One of the thought-provoking sessions I took in at the conference last week was the one on mentoring, by Sean McDowell.

I realized two things: 1) I haven't been taking my mentoring opportunities seriously enough--even the ones that fall into my lap. 2) One of the hazards of getting older is that there are fewer people older than me to serve as my mentors.

I could certainly profit from the wisdom of many who are older than me, but who, specifically? Maybe I'm over thinking this, but I seriously wonder if anyone at all would volunteer to mentor me. This isn't the first time in my life that I've felt as though I'm too intimidating.

I don't plan to stop learning bits and pieces from others in the meantime, even if I never have a formal mentoring relationship with anyone.


One of the lectures at the Expo was by Dr. Cullan, an OB/GYN doctor who we learned to know when their family and ours were part of the same 4H club, made up mostly of homeschoolers. He was the project leader for some of the things our boys participated in.

Yesterday Dr. Cullan talked about Vitamin D. For quite a while, he tested all his patients for their Vitamin D levels, and found, to his surprise, that here in sunny Kansas, 60% of those tested were below the normal level, which is about 32 (units? It's a blood test). The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 400 units per day. However, up to 50,000 units per week (per day?? Per week is how I remember this, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to me.) is safe for up to three months.

That morning before I left home I had read an email from a breast cancer survivor who told me that she had taken a lot of Vitamin D. She has been cancer free for some time, and I don't believe she ever had surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. She also took other non-pharmaceutical substances, each step after a lot of research and prayer.

I've been reading recently in the mainstream media that many people experience improved health when they begin to take Vitamin D supplements.

I'm not standing in line for Vitamin D pills just yet. For one thing, the Mannatech multivitamin/multimineral I'm taking has the RDA in the daily dosage, so I don't think it's too likely that I'm deficient. I will be doubly glad now though to bask in any sunshine I can gather on my skin. After weeks of rainy weather, this will feel wonderful anyway.


The ministers in our church are about halfway through the process of interviewing each member. Although we were given some guiding questions ahead of time, we were free to talk about whatever concerns we wished to share.

I think this is a great thing for ministers to do. I've heard of other churches who do this when they're in the middle of a crisis. I'm glad for the foresight our ministers have to do this before then.


Next weekend is the youth retreat. Trippy, from Virginia, has arrived for the event. She spent last school year here, and graduated at Pilgrim. This is the first time she's back. It looked so right to see her that it was almost as though she never left. She was in my Sunday School class.


My sister Linda reported that the apple pies I baked after I got home from the ACSI Convention sold for $10.00 and $15.00 at auction at the end of the Partridge Day events. They apparently didn't need all they had ordered for serving with the lunch for the day.


While I was gone, Hiromi seized the opportunity to clean out the refrigerator without interference from me. I saw that it looked cleaner and emptier, and that was nice, but I was a little fearful.

Not without reason, as it turned out. When I discovered that the one tiny unopened carton of cream that I was counting on for my pies was missing, I learned that, in fact, it had been discarded. "There wasn't a year on the expiration date, and I thought it was probably three years old." (It was a recent purchase.) Also, the egg-vinegar-water mixture for moistening the dry ingredients in the pie dough had been thrown out. "It smelled bad and looked watery."

He was feeling smug that he had recognized and saved the flour/shortening mixture I had put in the fridge in a Tupperware container.

I try not to discourage attempts to be helpful, and I really do appreciate them most of the time. Nevertheless, I did not feel generous enough late on a Friday evening to offer to go to Dwights for more cream to finish my apple pies. Thankfully, he picked up on my pointed suggestion that he inquire about its availability and trundle over there to get it and pay for it while I continued with other parts of the pie baking process. I mixed up more egg-vinegar-water stuff for the dough.

I owe a lot to my sister-in-law Judy for being able to make beautiful pies, and to my mother, who taught me all the basics. Judy learned it from her grandmother, and I use the same top crust designs, and brush on the same cream and egg glaze on the top, and then sprinkle it lightly with sugar. I also use cream and butter, besides sugar and cinnamon and lemon juice, for the apple pie filling.

Grant's comment just now as he worked on demolishing the last piece: "This is some kind of good."

Later: Grant sheepishly admitted that he had not actually delivered the pies to Partridge till about 12:20 when he discovered them on the dining room table, along with a note containing instructions, when he came home for lunch. We had talked about it the evening before and left the note and the pies because we had to leave early for the Expo, and Grant wasn't up yet. No wonder they were still intact at auction time. He told me though that the ladies that took the pies fussed about how nice they looked. (He knows how to compensate for his shortcomings.)

Grant fits right into the family. A lot of my life seems to be a story of almost meeting my obligations.


Hiromi's sister and her husband stopped in this afternoon to pick up some Japanese pickles Hiromi has been making. I had forgotten they were coming or I would have done a little more tidying up. As it was, I was sound asleep when they arrived, and not awake enough at any time to muster the energy to get up. So I missed seeing them, which is really a shame, given the fact that we don't often get together.


I bought several books in KC while I was there last week. One of them was a biography of Amy Carmichael written by Elisabeth Elliot. Both women are heroes of mine.

While I was there, and since I'm home I read the book A Thousand Shall Fall. It is written about a German Seventh Day Adventist Family's experiences during World War II. Because they were Sabbath keepers, people suspected them of being Jews. They were nonresistant, but the husband served six years in the military. He vowed never to kill anyone, and, because he was an excellent marksman, and did not trust himself to be able to resist the temptation to use his gun if he were threatened, he threw it away and put a similarly shaped piece of wood in its place in his holster. No one ever discovered his secret till after the war was over. On many occasions, the family experienced miraculous deliverance from terrible things that befell others. Life was hard, and they almost starved, even after the war was over. But reading the story is a faith strengthening experience. The author is the youngest child in the family.


See the link below for news on someone who grew up in our church. He is known here as Ervin Ray Stutzman, the middle name used to distinguish him from his uncle Ervin. He has just been appointed as Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA. Everyone who knew him as a child knew that he had enormous potential, but I think it's fair to say that we weren't all sure always that it was being channeled appropriately. It's wonderful to see how he is serving the church now. Ervin is a year younger than I. Ervin's dad died when he was three, and his widowed mother worked hard to support her family. It's too bad she didn't live long enough to see her son honored as he is being honored now. I'm also thinking about the many who served as mentors in Ervin's life, and how that effort paid off.


Several weeks ago when I was in Iowa, I heard several stories that I'd like to pass on.

One was from Aunt Fannie, who was in fine form the night after Uncle Henry's funeral when a bunch of the Beachys gathered at Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary's house. She's in her mid-80s and does not fit the diminished-decibel speech pattern I referred to earlier. From Ellis, who works with her son Marland, I learned that she has been known to play football with her grandchildren. Not a typical 80-year-old Mennonite grandma past time.

I learned that night that when she taunted the tramp from the safety of the corn field, it was because her brother John had promised her a nickel if she did so. Then he failed to pay up until decades later, when he gave her a dime, for good measure.

Lillian, Fannie's only daughter, accompanied her to Iowa from Florida. I hadn't seen her since she was a child, and was glad to get reacquainted a bit. She was at one time a loan officer in a bank, and is still in that business I believe, perhaps having been promoted since then. She looks the part--tall, dignified, and smartly dressed.

My sister Lois remembers that when she was three years old she got to go to Iowa with my dad by train when he had a week of meetings there. She stayed with Grandpas, and Lillian came over to play one day. She was just a bit younger than Lois.

Lillian did not want to take a nap when Grandma had them both lie down. She threw a sufficiently major fit to prompt my easy-going Grandma to interfere. "Vo iss meh pattle?" (Where is my paddle?) she kept repeating as she looked here and there in the bedroom, hoping no doubt that Lillian would take the hint and simmer down. She didn't, and Lois looked on in wonder as Grandma finally produced a ping-pong paddle and smacked Lillian on the bottom several times. That did the trick. Lillian doesn't remember this.

My Uncle Jesse told a story about the bull upstairs. He must have practiced this story, because he told it with just the right pacing and timing of details, which I won't be able to duplicate. It went something like this:

A farmer that Jesse works for part time called him one day and told him he had a bull upstairs, and he wouldn't come down. The bull was aggressive, and he needed Jesse's help since the bull had been there for several days already.

Jesse went over and peeked just above the stair well to check on the bull, at which point the bull came after him, and Jesse bailed out so as not to be caught in the stairwell with an agressive bull.

He waited till the next day, when he thought the bull might have weakened a bit from thirst and hunger, and, armed with a handful of green, fresh-smelling hay, he peeked again. This time the bull came to the stair well calmly and ate the hay. So Jesse put the rest of his plan into action. He nailed a big piece of plywood (or perhaps an old door) onto the stairs, with cleats across it for traction, and he scattered bits of hay from the top to the bottom of the stairs. Then he left, with doors open all the way to the outside.

The next day the bull was back outdoors, grazing with the other cattle.

The upstairs was in a tobacco drying shed. The bull who ended up there had entered the first floor through a door that was left open, or which had been pushed open. Several bulls--at least three--were inside the building when the door accidentally closed. Judging by the wreckage created, they were apparently fighting and scrapping in there when one of them made a dash for safety up the stairs. Later the others were discovered and released. But the one upstairs was left stranded. Going down stairs is much more frightening for bovines than going up, and that's why the bull had to be coaxed to come down.

I remembered hearing a story about college students who, as a prank, took a cow all the way to the top of the bell tower on campus, by way of a narrow, winding stairway. They left her there, and I'm guessing neither the cow or the people who had to get her down or leave her there to die thought it was very funny. I don't remember what they did. (Don't you hate it when people forget the ending to a story, or the punchline to a joke?)

My cousin Norman, who recently moved to northern Iowa, told the story of how they recently burned an old barn on their property, in preparation for building a new dairy barn. He called the fire department before he set the fire to see if they wanted to use it for training purposes. They said yes, and then later capitulated because of all the red tape involved. They gave him instructions, however. "Go ahead and light the fire whenever you get ready. Then call 911 and say that your controlled burn is getting out of control. We'll come right out and take care of things."

Norman did as instructed. But things got spectacular very fast, and he soon had a roaring inferno, with an enormous torch of flame shooting out of the opening toward another building. Big burning globs of stuff were falling on the porch floor of the house. He called 911 again and said "This is really an emergency now." Fortunately, the trucks were already on the way, and none of the other buildings were destroyed.

I grinned at Norman's commentary when he was showing my cousin Paul B. the picture of the fire and said, "You know, I'm pretty self-confident--like you--and my wife usually tries to help me think about what could happen. I usually tell her there's no need to worry. But I'm listening real good to my wife right now."

Norman and his brother Myron used to look like the two little boys on the "Been farmin' long?" poster. Ever-so-cute, with curly blond hair and blue eyes. I can picture them in striped overalls too.

I also enlightened my cousin Alan on a story our family occasionally recalls with amusement. We had been visiting Uncle Henrys (Alan's parents), and paused before we left for home to take a picture of their family. Little Leon had awakened shortly before this and was still in his PJ's. He kept the pants firmly in hand.

When his mother saw that he was clutching the waistline while posing for the picture, she said, "Leon, du musht net deh hussa uff haeva." (Leon, you don't have to hold up your pants.) He was an obedient little boy, so he let go, and the pants plummeted to his ankles. The picture waited till he retrieved them. Everyone looks happy on the picture, and no one minds that Leon is holding on to his pants.

Alan must have relayed the story to Leon because the next day when his own small son took a tumble and was totally embarrassed, he consoled him by saying, "At least your pants didn't fall down."


Myron works for Rod and Staff, and told me some astonishing news. They are publishing support materials for the Cup and Cross Anabaptist History textbook we have been using at our high school.

I wish this had happened earlier. It could have saved me a lot of time.

I contacted them several times about such a possibility, and never heard back from them. I also showed them some of the work I had done, with an offer to converse further. Only after that did I offer to sell my materials to some of the people who inquired. Now I realize that I was probably of the wrong gender to do any writing for R & S. I should have thought of that. I don't think Myron knew anything about this background.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Quote for the Day 10/16/2009

On our trip to the Christian School Convention in Kansas City--

Darrell (to me) : Shane told me in Colorado that he's trying to be a little more like his Mom--crass in a diplomatic way. I thought that was pretty funny. I've never seen that side of you.

Say it ain't so.

Do you think Shane needs a vocabulary lesson?

Diplomatic. I'm clinging to the hope that he knows what that means. He definitely needs enlightenment on that other word.


I am pleased to say that if I snored in that hotel room with three young ladies besides me, I didn't hear it or hear about it. Hiromi says I don't snore, so that's reassuring.

I enjoyed the meetings much more than I did the last time I went, two years ago. The workshops I took were worthwhile, although I belatedly realized that I chose one workshop that I took before--same title, same presenter. It was on writing a "story that is not boring" ( I thought the blurb could have used a bit of editing.), given by the sister-in-law of the man who wrote Stone Fox.

Having a poor memory presents lots of deja vu opportunities like the one at today's workshop.


Christian apologist Josh McDowell was the keynote speaker--only he was in the hospital having a stent installed on the morning of his first scheduled presentation. His son, Sean, stood in for him, and did a very good job with the assignment. He is a high school teacher in San Diego.

I think the person who introduced him was onto something when he observed that now Sean is known as Josh McDowell's son. But he suspects that some day Josh may be known as Sean's father.

Last night when we got back to our hotel after dark, from the parking lot we saw one room on the second floor with the lights on and the curtains flung wide. Perched right next to the window was Darrell's lunch box, clearly identifiable from below.

Three men occupied that room, all of them apparently used to letting someone else worry about little things like turning off the lights and adjusting the curtains. They're all good teachers, and I guess no one can be good at everything.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Charged with Power

Peter Dyck, of Henry's Red Sea fame, when he spoke in our church a number of years ago, told many memorable stories. Among them were tales of the Russian Mennonite refugees of German descent who were driven from their homes during World War II. Large numbers of them eventually filtered back into Germany, only to be trapped there in Berlin after it was closed off from the rest of Germany in the parting out that took place between the United States, England, France, and Russia. Without documentation they could not immigrate easily. Even with proper papers, they still had the problem of transportation. For many months, Mennonite Central Committee provided them with food and shelter, and worked hard to find a way for them to leave. When finally a tiny window of permission opened, they boarded a nighttime train with only a few hours notice, and traveled into the western sector of Germany into freedom. It was their "Red Sea" journey. Then the search began for a country abroad that would admit them. Some went to Canada, one of the few places that opened their doors. But others were denied entry there for various reasons. For those people, Paraguay became a refuge.

A refuge of sorts, that is. They settled in the Chaco, an extremely inhospitable environment. Time after time, the political leaders of Paraguay had seen people of various nationalities come and go through this region, none of them able to survive for long in the desert-like place. But for some of the Mennonites, it was their only recourse.

Relief at having found a place to settle soon gave way to the struggle to establish homes and a means of making a living. These battered people faced long odds. Many families were incomplete, fathers having been taken during the war, and never heard from again. Some of the women had died. So, even after they had a place to live, many families struggled to find normalcy. In their churches, they worked together to find answers to problems they had never encountered before, especially with regard to the permanence of marriage. What if one could not know whether he or she was widowed?

The search for information about the disappeared ones continued for a long time, and some families were eventually reunited. In one case, a couple who had been married only six weeks before the war separated them, met again in Europe after years of effort to locate each other, and found they no longer had anything in common. She returned to Paraguay to live alone, and he remained in Europe. Miah hen nuhnuh ahs gvoksa is how I remember Peter Dyck's quotation of her report. (We had outgrown each other.)

But things were different for others. One woman, who was alone with her children, lived near a man who was alone also. At least one of them was in the separated-with-no-information-about- the-spouse category. As others were doing, both of them helped their neighbors when they needed help.

One day the man came over to repair something inside the woman's house, and she noticed that his shirt was missing a button. She offered to sew it back on for him. More mutually beneficial exchanges of practical help followed, and they began to love each other and desire a future together. There was, however, the problem of the missing first spouse. Were they free to marry--these people who believed strongly in not putting asunder what God had joined together?

Finally they joined households, perhaps without formalizing the marriage. They continued to stay involved in their church community, and others struggled with them to find a way to settle the question of marriage in the case of a disappeared spouse. Finally the group decided together that if, after diligent searching, and the passage of seven years, no evidence of the missing person's survival had surfaced, the remaining partner could remarry freely. Unfortunately, the couple in question did not qualify for marriage under the new guidelines.

Peter Dyck was present in the church gathering when they settled what was to be done with the couple. These people understood how high the stakes were. Everyone had been through deep fear and anguish together, and each was tied to their brothers and sisters through the strong bonds of shared faith, and common adversity. They understood the crying need for companionship and practical help that had drawn the couple together. A spirit of compassion prevailed, and Peter Dyck wept as he recalled that everyone there was in tears during the discussion. But when the leader asked all those to stand who believed the couple should separate, everyone stood. One of the two soon moved to Canada, and the other stayed behind.

I weep too, imagining what it cost everyone involved to wrestle with this remarriage question in the context of loyalty to the Scriptures and the reality of human need. However, I love what the story tells me. As is often the case, an out-of-the-ordinary situation like the Paraguayan Chaco Mennonite case brings perspective to far more run-of-the-mill scenarios.

It's true, of course, that no marriage crisis is ordinary for those involved. If anything has ever been right in a marriage, parting is a grief-filled process. If nothing was ever right, the emotional and practical implications still create feelings of sadness and loss. Usually a combination of right and wrong is present, and sorting things out is confusing. The difference between what often happens in America and elsewhere, and what happened in the Chaco, is that people who have experienced such loss here often find a way to justify remarriage. Sometimes they do so with the blessing of the church body they associate with. Tacitly or otherwise, people seem to have decided that having endured wrongs or merely having outgrown each other justifies a counter-measure which is legal, but not defensible from Scripture: remarriage under more promising conditions.

For us all, the example of those brave people in Paraguay is instructive. Preserving a Biblical view of marriage is important, extenuating circumstances notwithstanding. A church community can both stand with those who are hurting and stand with Scripture. Those who suffer can go on alone without bitterness, given the help of God and a caring brotherhood. Compassion and loyalty to the Scriptures are not mutually exclusive, and the combination is charged with power. When forgiveness is added, enough power is present to survive singleness without hope of remarriage. The memory of all those crying people standing together, and the cooperation of that "couple" living in Paraguay and Canada shows us that.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Out of the Ordinary

I really really don't like the weather report. Right now, at 8:00 AM it's 31 degrees, with a north wind 18 MPH, with gusts to 29 MPH. I thought it would stay above freezing till tonight, and I could dash out and gather a few more flowers, container plant cuttings, and vegetables. I may be too late.

My problems are small though, compared to the farmers who have fields of immature milo, or newly planted alfalfa--sprouted and hugging the ground, but still not at the three-leaf stage that prepares it adequately for winter. The seed is very expensive, and if the young plants freeze, the opportunity for starting a crop is lost for this year since it's too late to replant. Most field crops are about two weeks behind schedule because of the unseasonably cool weather we've had this year, beginning in August. Abundant rain also prevented more timely planting of fall crops.

On the bright side, for the first time since the middle of May when Farmer's Market opened, I am staying home while Hiromi goes to market. He was pretty sure that since I couldn't wear insulated coveralls like he's planning to do, I would be too cold. So my staying home was his idea, and I happily played into the "weaker sex" stereotype and am cozily ensconced in warm clothes inside our heated home, while he is undoubtedly struggling to stay warm on the windy side of the market. He was armed with a thermos of hot tea--a switch from the thermos of ice water we usually take along.

In preparation for the big chill, he harvested six zuchetta rampicante yesterday. Those six "godzilla zucchini" filled up the seat and floor of the passenger side in the front of our minivan. It's a good thing I didn't need to sit there. I don't think those squash are the cuddly kind, and if I had held them all, I wouldn't have been able to look out over the top of the pile.

The sweet potatoes are not dug, and the neck pumpkins are not all harvested yet. Among the flowers, I have hundreds of gomphrena flowers that could be harvested for drying. I'm not sure if I'll get it done today.

But a whole blessed day of being at home awaits. I'd better write down the long mental list that's been accumulating inside my head, and get started on doing instead of thinking.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Quote for the Day 10/2/2009

In a conversation today between Heidi and Miriam, the little five-year old girl (Number ten in a family of ten) who had accompanied her mother when she brought hot lunch to school:

Heidi: Are you all alone at home while everyone else is in school?

Miriam: No. I'm there, and my mom is there, and lots of babies.

She had brought one of them, Abby, along today. Abby went to the typing room with big brother David, and then sat under the table for a while in front of the serving window. During lunch she lay on the table where Miriam and her parents and the other teachers and I were eating. We learned then that when Miriam's daddy found Abby on the sidewalk recently, Abby went to foster care for a few days till her real mother could care for her properly again. I told Miriam that Abby was lucky that her daddy found her before a dog like Max found her.

Heidi: Is Brenda your only other sister?

Miriam: No. Anna. And ____________ , but she's running away from God.

Heidi: Oh. That's really sad. Do you pray for her?

Miriam: Yes. I wish she wouldn't run away from God.

And that's how the conversation went for most of the first period after lunch. I was pretty sure Heidi was operating on the principle I overheard her share with one of only two other people who were not in class that hour: "Don't ask," she said, when Marvin sounded like he was going to ask something about how privilege level this Friday relates to having said Bible memory before last Friday. So Heidi and Miriam chatted privately a long time, there at one end of the cavernous, forsaken learning center, while Marvin and Louise went off to finish their lab, and I busily recorded composition quiz scores--Heidi conveniently not asking if hers was the expected behavior. And I conveniently ignored them. I wouldn't have known the answer to the technical privilege question anyway.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Conflation of Putter and Totter

In an earlier post I referred to wishing to be able to tend to my flowers when I am 88 years old. I used the term "potter" to refer to that tending activity.

I didn't look up the word, and had doubts about its usage after someone called it to my attention as a misspelling. (We all know that composition teachers should never be caught making spelling errors.) But my subconscious was on target after all. Potter is a synonym for putter.

I think I used it because it sounded so much more like "totter" which is what I might expect to be doing if I was 88. So, although entirely subconscious, it provided just the connotation I wanted when I wrote about Nellie falling frequently while she was out tending her flowers at 88.

"Conflation" is a term I learned while doing some of the technical writing with Hiromi that was involved in our co-authored book on Greek Bible texts. It happened, even in early Bible versions, when a person who was familiar with several versions of the same event, inserted material from another source into a translation of a passage that originally did not include the inserted detail. The result was a combination of two versions from different writers--an "amplified" version, in fact. It provides a great deal of fodder for the "King James Only" people who see a conspiracy in this scenario, but our research did not reveal a single case where the content suggested anything nefarious.