Prairie View

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Teacher's Gathering Ruminations

Yesterday's Midwinter Teacher's Gathering focused on an idea that has become a formative educational concept for me--the concept of creating a homelike atmosphere in classrooms. I helped on the planning committee this year. Hence the intersection of my conviction and the theme of this year's event.

Several decades ago, in my first stint of teaching--in Ohio--I heard Verna Birky talk about John 14, and the significance of Jesus having prepared a place for us and how that provides a model for homemakers who share their living space with others. Later, during my years of homeschooling I saw clearly that the "contrived" environment of a classroom had little to recommend it except for its convenience. Instead of making our homes school-like, I determined that it would improve schools if they were to become more home-like.

Yesterday Wes S. talked first about "Heaven: A Prepared Place," reminding us all that heaven is a place of activity, discovery, and relationship. It was wonderfully well-thought out and engagingly presented and inspiring. I usually interact with him when we have school business to see to, and don't often have a chance to hear him speak to other adults, so this was a treat.

Next, Matt. P., who drove here all the way from Iowa, spoke on "Preparing a Place for Students." He drew from his experience in working with troubled young men at Bald Eagle Wilderness Camp as well as his classroom experience. He highlighted important elements of a welcoming classroom atmosphere, focusing especially on relationship issues.

In the last keynote address, Nevin N. spoke on "Preparing for Joyful Relationships." When we asked him to speak, we were thinking of his many years as an educator in Christian schools--not realizing that he and his wife have begun a counseling ministry with a focus on relationships. Nevin was a classmate of mine all the way through grade school and high school. Only this year, he has moved back to this community, and was available to us. He too spoke meaningfully from a wealth of experience and insight.

Without anyone having coordinated this part of it, a secondary theme of "relationships" emerged from what each speaker emphasized.

Besides the keynote addresses, people could choose from eight different workshops in two different sessions. I attended one on "Mentoring" by Matt P. and another on "Art" by Hilda I., our daughter-in-law. Both of these were really good. I think many of the others were good too, based on the evaluation forms people turned in.

Hilda amazes me. She has a natural and engaging way of communicating with people and has substantive things to say. I learned a lot from her presentation, almost enough to make me feel like campaigning to add art as an option to our high school curriculum. (Technically, it's an option as an ACE course, but I can't remember anyone having taken it during the whole time I've been there.) I can think of a few students who struggle a good bit with other course work but would shine in art. It's a shame they don't have that opportunity at school.

After the meeting we had a debriefing session over pizza, chips, and pop (and salad--my attempt to save the meal from total decadence). One major point of discussion was on how to make the finances come out right. Sigh. This year fewer people from other communities attended, but we had a good representation from the Amish and Mennonite schools in this county. We wonder if there's something we could do to make some of this year's absent groups feel more welcome--or are there philosophical differences that don't have much to do with what kind of welcome we convey? Who knows? I think some of the Oklahoma people stayed home because of really nasty roads.

We ended the debriefing after having compiled a bunch of notes and suggestions to be handed to the next committee. We also plotted and planned who should be asked to serve on this committee. The grade school staff will contact some of these people when the time gets a little closer--but not as close as it was this time. We've had the meetings every two years of late.

One planned workshop on Curriculum Choices didn't run, for lack of interest. We included the subject because someone suggested it on the evaluation forms from the last meeting.

In retrospect, I think the lack of interest in this subject points out a vacuum in our mechanism for bringing about change in our school curricula. Board members don't usually initiate it, depending instead on input from teachers who suggest it. Teachers realize they don't have the authority to bring about change on their own, so they leave it to someone else to figure out, unless they are unusually dissatisfied with what is being used. Parents of classroom schooled students include curriculum choices in the package of work they have chosen to delegate to others. Homeschoolers think about it all the time, and aren't likely to change what is already working well for them. So. Who is going to do the hard thinking about curriculum for classroom schools? I nominate all of us.


On the school board meeting minutes I noticed with some amusement that one of the possibilities they discussed was asking parents to provide financial compensation for teachers who have extra work from dealing with their children's discretionary absences. That would be amazing.

I am in two minds about this. On the one hand, I feel that maybe if regular school attendance can't be managed because of family priorities that regularly interfere, maybe the family needs a new title: homeschooler. Yet, I'm sure that many good learning opportunities exist outside of our classrooms, and school staff can act a little too much like they have a turf to defend and a standing army to maintain if they get too inflexible on school attendance. This is an unbecoming stance, in my opinion.

Maybe the extra financial compensation is actually not too bad an idea. It IS extra work for a teacher to help absent students catch up. While I usually do it gladly enough when I know the absence was due to illness or to a wonderful learning opportunity elsewhere, I remember one semester in the past when I felt like I was being exploited--when uncalled-for absences (my opinion, obviously) left me to go to extra trouble to catch up a student because the family didn't want to go to extra trouble to make attendance possible.

I do think that when parents opt to delegate their children's education to others in a classroom setting, they ought to understand that this choice involves sacrifices they must be prepared to live with. Group schooling is an imperfect option (as is every other option), and ought to be chosen with full understanding that the convenience for parents comes with more limited schedule choices for parents. In other words, it's not possible to have both the convenience of group schooling and the schedule flexibility of homeschooling.

Most of the time things go along very smoothly in this regard, and I'm not sure if we need a policy or not. Fortunately I don't have to decide.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Quote for the Day 1/29/2010

Me (to Grant, who was slicing some cooked potatoes) : What's that for?

Grant: Breakfast.

Me: Are you going somewhere early?

Grant: I guess I'm going to Freeze-out tonight.

Miriam: Grant. . . . Not a good idea. How are you going to stay warm?

Grant: I won't. That's just part of it. Besides, it's pretty much out of the wind.


When there's at least six inches of snow on the ground, the temperature is slated to bottom out at about 10 degrees (with windchill values below zero . . . . Can anyone think of a LESS suitable time to plan a big camping event, with people driving from several states away to participate?

Ernest Y. plans this annual Freeze-out event and invites any and all to attend. I hear from some that it's a father-son event. Not in our family.

I remember some of the high school girls attending one year at Ernest's invitation, so apparently it was open to both genders that time at least.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dismissal Song Magic

The dismissal song at school usually doesn't make me cry, but today something magical happened.

During the last period of the day, when only Heidi, Marvin, and Louise are in the learning center, someone started playing the Anonymous Somebodies CD. I asked the students if they could picture students in the distant future listening during school to their recorded singing, as they were doing then--listening to the singing of former students: Shane, John, Heidi, and Crystal. Marvin looked at the two girls and observed that they'd need a bass, then followed with some funny comments about his own very un-bass voice. He's a late bloomer, and refreshingly cheerful about it.

Just as the quartet was finishing "Di De Ta Deo" (Can't remember for sure how to spell these words.), the typing students and the German students emerged from their respective classrooms at the sound of the final bell.

"Do you want to sing that song for dismissal?" Mr. Schrock asked as he headed for his desk to preside over dismissal. He quickly found the beginning of the song on the CD and let Shane, John, Heidi, and Crystal lead the way. The students chimed in, with such joy and finesse that I was blown away. On and on . . . swelling and ebbing, soaring and whispering--through the whole complicated, echoing song.

I didn't really know it well enough to help, so I mostly listened. It was lovely. Being in the lively presence of our high school students helped make up for missing the people singing in the recording. Right now they are all far away, scattered from Colorado to Ohio to Thailand.

I thought of Wendell too, who first taught our students that song during one of my first years of teaching at Pilgrim. He's been in Virginia now for the past four? years, and I don't see him very often. But I still think warm fuzzy thoughts about him occasionally. For all the arguing (Ahem, very lively discussing, I mean.) we teachers did while he was here, we sure had a lot of good times.


Is "Di De Ta Deo" (or a clip of it) available on the internet? If anyone out there can post a link, either to the Anonymous Somebodies rendition or another one, I'd appreciate your doing so.


Shane recently sent us a CD of the Laudate group's singing last summer. More great music. Maybe someone will post a link to that as well.


I marvel sometimes at how easily people learn "nonsense" sounds (in the minds of people who don't understand the language) when they are set to music. I can't imagine our students letting the words of an African language roll so easily roll off their tongue in any other setting. But when they've learned them in the context of melody and rhythm, the language flows--light and lilting.

It's enough to make a teacher cry.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Olive's Story

For several months I have been following the story of a baby girl who was born prematurely to missionary parents in Thailand. The baby's mother is my second cousin, although I do not really know her personally. The baby's grandpa Norman grew up here. A more alive recent connection is through our daughter-in-law, Hilda, whose aunt-by-marriage, Kathy, is an aunt to the baby's mother. I've been following the story on various blogs. Our Sunday School class has been praying for the baby and her family.

The baby was born on September 25, and weighed 2 lbs. 8 oz. As I recall, she was more than 3 months early. Her father had gone to the US, expecting to return in plenty of time for his child's birth. He hurried home immediately, of course, when the baby made an early appearance while he was gone.

The next months were often a roller coaster of crises and hopeful times. Infections and inter-cranial hemorrhages left the baby severely brain damaged, but she seemed surprisingly resilient. Time after time, she recovered from critical illness. Although the parents were willing to offer her back to the God Who had given her, they supported life for her in every way they could. The baby, who was named Olive Hope, continued to grow, and eventually gained enough size and stability to be flown to the US. A Thai doctor and two nurses accompanied the baby and her parents on a commercial flight.

Olive's parents loved her dearly, and were willing to do whatever was necessary to care for her, even though no one gave them any hope that, outside of a miracle, she would develop normally.

Last week things looked very hopeful, and dismissal from the hospital this week looked possible. But then another crisis developed. The shunt that had been installed to drain cerebro-spinal fluid malfunctioned (broke, actually), and another surgery was required to fix it.

The short version of what happened after surgery is that on Friday morning everyone realized that she had contracted an infection through the incision. Her body could not bounce back this time, and Olive died shortly after 6:30 in the evening. She was a little less than four months old.

I feel a lot of sympathy for Olive's family. They've faced a lot of hard things in the past months, and the separation now must be very difficult--perhaps the hardest thing of all.

I know one thing though. Olive's parents have done successfully what every parent hopes to do--love their child while they're here, provide for them to the best of their ability, and see them safely enter heaven.

I've been reflecting on the fact that when a "safe" or saved person dies, they go directly into the welcoming presence of Someone. When they leave our presence, they do not go away to nowhere, even for a short time. They are instantly alive in heaven--healed, cared for, and happy. When the one who dies is a helpless child who has required extraordinarily vigilant caregiving, knowing this is very precious. While that knowledge doesn't let us escape the pain of parting, it helps provide a solid foundation for healing.

God bless all those who loved Olive and her family.

Stocking-footed Church Goers

This morning when Hiromi and I stepped inside the church entrance and added our shoes to the collection already there, Hiromi said, "I feel right at home." He was referring to years of having done that in Japan--removing his shoes upon entering a building.

Has our church gone Eastern?


The 50-year old gray-tiled floors had just been refinished, and the wax needed additional curing before it could tolerate regular foot traffic. So this morning we got a call saying that everyone should plan on wearing only socks in the sanctuary part of the building or have their shoes thoroughly cleaned after they arrive. Harold, who is a trustee, was on duty as people arrived, rag and water bucket in hand.

The scene struck me funny several times this morning. People padded very flat-footedly to their Sunday School classes, and everyone glided silently up the aisles to take their places on the pews. People looked short. The visiting preacher told, tongue-in-cheek, about having gotten cold feet, and contemplating just going home instead of preaching.

Some people had planned ahead better than others of us did. I saw one lady who wore dark red socks precisely matching the color of her dress. Fuzzy footsies, knitted slippers, and sturdy socks all made an appearance. After a chilly Sunday School class experience in regular nylons I accepted an offer of socks from Grace, who had left home without getting the message and then called home and asked someone there to bring a bunch of socks. I picked out fuzzy white ones.

I suspected that this kind of service would not be likely to ever happen in most Beachy churches--maybe because the floor cleaning would be more perfectly coordinated with the church schedule otherwise, or maybe because that kind of unconventionality could hardly be accommodated.


Shoe sole "tread" and the river sand/gravel that most rural roadways, driveways, and parking lots here are surfaced with are a punishing combination for floors. Tiny pebbles get wedged in shoe soles and grind away on the floor finish at every step, or lose their moorings and get ground underfoot by anyone whose footstep finds them. A refinish every six months to a year is necessary to keep the flooring from deteriorating. Squeezing in the work-and-curing time when the building is used for both school and church is quite a challenge.


Our visiting minister this morning was Dan Miller, who is here from Indiana with his wife Mary Ann. They are spending six weeks here, under the auspices of CASP (Conservative Anabaptist Service Program). Dan directs the work crews of young men who have volunteered to help in renovating housing for needy people in Hutchinson. They work for Interfaith Housing, a local organization that has been in operation for some time. Mary Ann is chief cook and housemother. Lorne and Grace, a local couple, help along--he as "chaplain," and she as assistant cook and housemother. (I'm not sure what their official titles are.)

They all live together at Marvin and Lois' Cottonwood Lane residence.

My father and others are still looking for a couple to take Dan and Mary Ann's place in about four weeks. They would need to be available for six weeks. If you know of a man who can direct a construction crew who has a wife who can cook--both of whom have a servant's heart and are free to leave home for a time--urge them to apply for a job in Kansas. Contact my dad at (620) 567-2376. I think a few more young men are also needed four weeks from now.


My Uncle Edwin was the unfortunate victim of a snafu last Sunday morning when he got ready for church as usual and no one came to pick him up.

Hiromi and LaVerne usually take turns doing so. When LaVerne left for Thailand, he asked Edwin's brother-in-law to take his turn. He happily agreed. But near the end of the week, Ollie's son-in-law's grandmother died, and Ollie went to the funeral in Garnet--understandably not remembering his plans to pick up Edwin.

Hiromi didn't go either, since it wasn't his turn and he didn't know Ollies were in eastern Kansas. Sometime near the end of the service, Hiromi got a foreboding sense that not all was as it should be when he realized that he had not seen Edwin or Ollie.

Ollie called here this morning before church to offer to make up for his missed turn. Everyone feels bad about the oversight, and, I suspect, will make extra effort to see that it does not happen again.

Hiromi is impressed with Edwin's "reader," which apparently consists of some kind of hookup between a scanner and a screen--an arrangement that magnifies text to a size that can more easily be read by people whose eyesight is no longer keen.

Edwin likes to read, and, now in his upper eighties, is still well-informed and articulate--as much so as his Parkinson's Disease allows.


It looks like there may be a move in our future some time this year. Our tenants are thinking of moving, and, with our household having shrunk significantly, we think we should consider squeezing back into the house on Trail West road again. I like that place, but I rather dread the moving process, and I'm not sure how well I'm prepared to handle the necessary down-sizing, and having to abandon again a place we have invested in emotionally, and stamped with our labor and nurturing efforts.

Having had whole house air conditioning last year for the first time ever has me reluctant to do without again. My kitchen here is much more spacious than the one there. I like the front porch here, and the roominess in general. The cozy wood stove and the good water are advantages at Trail West, and, since we own the place, any changes we make are ours to benefit from as long as we live, hopefully.

All of this reminds me that having an ideal forever-home is one of the good things to look forward to in heaven. Meanwhile, with enough time, I'm sure I'll find a lot to be grateful for wherever I live.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Belly of the Beast

The first written reports on the current events topic of the month, The American Prison System, have been handed in. I chose the topic in response to a suggestion from a student--not necessarily because I have always been curious about it, or because I already loved learning about it. Because of my brother's long incarceration, I find the subject painful, and do not gladly dredge up the memories of having him isolated from us except for brief visits. I hated walking away from him after each visit was over. I can still hardly believe how good it is to have him free and accessible as a friend and family member.

Still, I wasn't quite prepared for how profoundly affected some of the students would be during their research of the subject. One person today told me she almost threw up when she read what happened at Abu Grhaib. Another person told me he could hardly believe how horribly and abusively children were treated while incarcerated with older inmates. He said this, holding in his hand the first-person book I remember from its sensational release in 1981, under Norman Mailer's mentoring, In the Belly of the Beast. I hadn't thought of that book in years, and didn't even recognize it among the many books Hiromi checked out from the Hutch library for the students to consult.

Is it OK to hand students such upsetting material to investigate?

In general terms, I find it easy to defend the practice of making students aware of how the world is--good and evil. But I recognize that carrying this concept to every extreme would be wrong. So how do we know when we've hit upon the right combination of exposure and protection?

Last month the students read Black Like Me, which is an autobiographical story. In one recorded conversation, a white man very clearly demonstrated a terribly unfair and stereotypical view of African American male sexuality. Yet the passage was tastefully written--as much so as was possible, while still preserving an accurate account of what happened in the conversation. I thought it was just right--abhorrent, to be sure, but honest, and not filled with gratuitous detail. But the passage elicited concern from some. What to do?

One of my wise fellow-teachers offered to summarize the passage and let students skip it if they found it troubling. But how were they to know how they felt about it if they hadn't read it? In reality, any protests were almost guaranteed to follow the reading of the passage. In the end the teacher's offer was never accepted. But unfortunately, all the hoopla almost guaranteed that, for whoever was offended, the passage became one of the most memorable aspects of the story. The backfiring of sensitivity, it might be termed.

Is there a difference between a disturbing news article and disturbing details in a book?

I admit to not having made it all the way through a clip of footage from the aftermath of Haiti's recent earthquake--because I found it too upsetting. So I do know the feeling of wanting to turn away from pain and suffering that seems too overwhelming to address helpfully from here. Yet it is partially because of those images that I remember Haiti's plight often, and pray for relief for their needy people. In fact, I have never prayed so many times in so short a time for Haiti's people. Almost certainly, opportunities to give will follow.

Perhaps the students are finding it the same way. Perhaps they are remembering now to pray for people in prison, especially for those who are young, or who are military prisoners. Maybe they are praying for integrity and compassion among prison guards. They might pay attention the next time a prison reform story makes it into the news. They might have new respect for our church brothers who invest time in prison ministry. The ex-convict who attends our services can be welcomed with some knowledge of what his life in prison may have involved. When they interact with African Americans, they might be able to see a worthy human being rather than a novel skin color.

This is why I am willing to "go to bat" for requiring students to learn about some things that make them uncomfortable--because I believe Christian people should be willing to feel some of the pain that suffering human beings feel. From this perspective, I find it more distressing to observe a flippant I just don't like to read about stuff like that (which may initially have been cast in the terms of a conscience issue) than hearing reading about this made me feel like throwing up.

Several days ago a young person shared with me how considering the concept of "suffering love" has ministered to her recently, revealing the need for it in her own heart--specifically with regard to an ever-present difficult relationship. The Christian discipleship call to suffering love is so compelling and so ultimately rewarding that momentary discomfort in its pursuit and practice can surely be endured--perhaps even welcomed.

Caution is certainly in order all around, but it's clear to me that studying current events and reading about others' painful experiences can be part of developing a Christ-like spirit of compassion and service, and should not be summarily avoided. Perhaps we've hit the right balance between protection and exposure when we require enough exposure to prompt prayers rather than dismissive or disdainful attitudes, but enough protection to prompt long-term gratitude for whatever safety and freedom students are personally blessed with.

If Christians have to go into the belly of the beast before the healing grace of suffering love can be extended to others, then let's pray that we'll be able to emerge with a prayer in our hearts. If that can happen, we'll have all the balance we need.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Soil Sample Labeling

The students in my Food Production class took a small field trip today to the K-State Research and Extension office, soil samples in hand.

The lady at the extension office had suggested yesterday that if all the bags of soil were labeled with the name of the person requesting the report, the check-in of all the samples would go faster. I dutifully relayed this information to the students. Your soil sample bags should be labeled with a name.

Accompanying the sample was a form that asked for the name of the garden. "That's just for you," I told the students, "to make sure you can identify this sample in case you turn in more than one. " I didn't pay much attention to how they filled out this part.

Before we set off for town, I checked to see if all the soil samples were labeled. Grinning to myself, I took special note of Marvin's. In an echo of his board game history, and, to match his garden name on the form, he had labeled it Marvin Gardens.

Pancake Stuff

Me (upon finding the box after Hiromi had gone shopping the day before) : You bought an electric griddle? I didn't know that. Nice.

Hiromi: I told you. You weren't listening.

Me: Sorry. I must have been reading something.


This morning, after I had assembled all the from-scratch dry ingredients for pancakes--to Hiromi, who was still in bed:

Me: Where's the buttermilk? I can't find it.

Hiromi: Buttermilk?

Me: Yeah. You told me you bought buttermilk the other day.

Hiromi: I did not.

Me: Yes you did. That's why I asked you yesterday morning if you wanted pancakes for breakfast--because I thought you were hinting, after you got home from town.

Hiromi: I got milk from Dwights, but I never even thought about buttermilk, and I sure didn't get any, and didn't tell you I got buttermilk.

Me: Now I remember what you said. You said "I got pancake stuff." (Pause to think.)

Me again: Oh. Were you talking about the griddle when you said you got pancake stuff?

Hiromi: Oh yeah. I guess I probably was.

Me: Well, I most certainly would not have called that "pancake stuff." Buttermilk is "pancake stuff" in my books.


Back to the kitchen to try to salvage the pancake idea. . . Let's see--more baking powder--can't take out the soda now--wonder how this will taste--soda without buttermilk--too late to change it--I'll have to separate the eggs and beat the whites--I'm feeling so rewarded for getting up early to fix a nice breakfast for my sleeping-in family, and so rewarded for taking the initial blame for not discerning promptly that Hiromi had bought an electric griddle.

Have I ever mentioned that we do not always communicate well at our house?

A "Little Cat Feet" Situation

Daily fog happens in places like Oregon or England or Boston harbor (where the fog comes in on little cat feet and sits quietly looking over the harbor and then is gone--Robert Frost.). Right? And, of late, in 65%-of-the-days-sunny Kansas. Read about it here.

With only one exception in the past eight days, mornings have arrived with dense fog advisories. Ditto for today, and looking ahead, for tomorrow. This many foggy days in a row hardly ever happens here--never since at least 1969. In 2003, there were seven such days, and in 1983, there were six. We are SO on track to shatter the 40-year-old records in 2010. Dubious distinction, I know.

Fog feels magical, if I'm not thinking of people driving anywhere in it. If the temperature is below freezing and the air is moist, hoar frost forms. Who hasn't been awed by the beauty of white-crystal etchings outlining or "plating" every exposed surface? I like the aura of mystery--disembodied sounds everywhere, transported from distant places by the moisture in the air--the trains going through Partridge three miles away, the semis on US 50 two miles away, the neighbor leaving home to go to work. Nearby I hear the sheep stirring in their fiberglass hutch, the goats in the big block-constructed, otherwise-empty hog barn, the birds murmuring in the trees. There's usually no wind when we have fog--another piece of the magic in this breezy place.

But still, enough is enough, and I'm already looking forward to the return of sunny winter mornings.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mornings Gone Awry

Shane and Dorcas typically leave their little apartment shortly after 3:00 AM every Monday morning. They head for Denver with Dorcas at the wheel of the truck. (Those of us who have known Shane's early morning modus operandi understand the wisdom of this.) Often they are gone overnight, servicing book racks in various towns before heading home a day or two later. So they take along on-the-road food, and clothes for the duration. At some point, they have to load books onto the truck too.

Sometimes the process goes slightly awry, as evidenced by Shane's Facebook post:

"Is it Monday morning? Note to self: Even if it's early in the morning, especially if you're leaving for three days, you should probably go ahead and put a shirt on. Oh, and at least one of you should remember to bring your wallet.

Details, details, I know. For the record, I had an undershirt on, but I never got around to putting on my uniform. We were already in Denver by the time we discovered the missing wallets. Let's just say that when creatures of zombiesque habit get their routine disrupted, it's not a pretty thing."

LOL. For once, this acronym fits.

P.S. I don't know why the funny font--something about cutting and pasting.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Story Time Around the World

“Great Mirth” was the subject line in one email that arrived in my inbox yesterday. It’s from Rachel, with whom I’ve been discussing weighty matters like how to have church. In hopes of doing my mirth-spreading bit today, I asked for permission to post the email here.

“I am sitting here laughing out loud about your skunk story - unbelievable!!!
I've been talking to my Family Counseling class about couples becoming soul mates: developing spiritual intimacy with one another. I never thought about how uniting in an effort to put a skunk out of the house could accomplish this, but when necessity calls, a united front is most sure proof, and makes a great story!

One would not typically think of prayer and the evicting of skunks going together. What really cracked me up is the image of Miriam and Hiromi holding hands together at 4:15+ in the morning, praying to be able to remove this skunk out of their house. I think I shall use this story in my classes to illustrate unusual and humorous ways of bonding at most unexpected times within a marriage, telling them, "Never overlook the opportunity to work together. It may be one of many stories in your repertory which you will be able to retell of how interestingly and unexpectedly your spiritual intimacy was built over time."

Thanks for the laugh and the great illustration to use!”

Thanks to Rachel for a chance to see a positive so quickly in what was not a welcome development at the time. “Developing spiritual intimacy” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? I had no idea that’s what we were doing at 4:15 A.M. yesterday--in our dining room, me in my nightgown and chicken hair (I escaped with only the clothes on my back, after all.) and Hiromi in his boots and other clothes.

I echo the idea, though, that working together IS a wonderful way to build intimacy. Hiromi has always been amazed when I’ve wished to join him on a task, just so we can work together, but I know that Rachel is on target on this one. Rachel and I get it, even if Hiromi doesn't. I hope the couples in that former Soviet-bloc country class believe her–about the skunk and the intimacy.


In the middle of the episode, Hiromi's "I'm going to get my boots" comment was the one that cracked me up--like a three-year-old with new cowboy boots who feels powerful and prepared whenever he's wearing them. I think what Hiromi was really thinking is that, with a skunk under the bed, how can you even safely get off the bed? Dangling bare appendages in front of a skunk does not seem like a wise move. But, of course, he did just that, leaving the bedroom in his slippers, on his way to his boots, with a stop in the dining room!!!!! for his shirt and pants, where he had fortuitously left them. I, on the other hand, pondered the "dangling appendages" imagery and stayed in bed till I heard and saw the skunk penned for the moment behind the wicker shelf unit.

Hiromi is a champion of the unpreceded and unexplained comment--and decisive action. Those characteristics are endearing and annoying by turns. It's fun though, when it really doesn't matter if I understand the context of a comment or not. Those are the times I can put on it any spin I want. Big imagination to the rescue. . . I didn't know about the clothes on the dining room chair, and was already picturing Hiromi doing skunk eviction battles in his boots and undies, in the spirit of a three-year-old Mighty Man of Valor.

The big-imagination forays did not comfort me when I looked around at all the books in our bedroom, and thought of all the clothes in that room, the mattress, the bedding and curtains around the bed and at the window--How would you ever get skunk spray smell out of all that? But, of course, I didn't dwell on that thought for long. Duty called, so I reported for duty--as soon as I was assured that my feet could safely make it into my Birkenstocks and out the door without a skunk attacking them. I didn't even remember to grab my bathrobe when I walked by it. By then, Hiromi was already almost out the front door, fully dressed.

Marriage Lesson #2
: Men and women approach their challenges differently, but when each one contributes responsibly, with a generous spirit, the important bases are likely to get covered.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Another Option

We got our ballots today for voting on our preferred format for Sunday morning services. What do you do when your preferred format is not one of the options given?

In the past, in such cases, I’ve often invented my own option, and given it a plug in the comments section. This is a little like voting for someone in a presidential election who is neither a Republican or a Democrat–a Libertarian, maybe. You get to make a statement, but you already know that your side won’t win.

What I would like is this:

Everything as we have done it for 50 years with these changes:

1) General discussion shortened to 10 minutes instead of 20.

2) A sharing time in that time slot opened up by the shortened general discussion.

If I read it correctly, all the options on the sheet required an either/or vote between sharing time and general discussion. Why couldn’t we do a bit of both?

I’ve heard some interesting feedback since my brief comment in last Sunday’s discussion and a blog post on the subject.

One person told me today that she agreed with my comment (the one about liking to hear what the men have to say). Her husband, who did not grow up here, also values the general discussion.

Another response came via email, from a member who is serving abroad. She is a teacher in a Christian university. With Rachel’s permission, I’m quoting part of that email.

After information on how church services are conducted in the country where she lives, she said, “I think it is meaningful to have more emphasis put on praise and prayer (they pray a lot more in their services than we do in ours). But it does seem that the expository teaching element seems weaker. I think our [stateside church] SS classes (especially the focus of the general discussion) and our sermons make a great deal of effort to correctly understand the Word of God with teaching on how to live it.”

In another email she said:
“I do feel that one of the strengths our church has had is that people have been encouraged to think and express how they view things, in particular, how they understand Scripture and feel that it should be applied. And the forum for this, in my opinion, has been our general discussions and our Wednesday evening topics. If we do away with the general discussion piece of our Sunday morning service, I do hope that we don't do away with the freedom/ ability we have had to think critically, and publicly discuss issues, be it about Scripture, godly living in this world, or otherwise.”

About hearing what the men think:
“I too like it - and as you said, I have liked it since I was young. I think it is like you mentioned, it doesn't imply that it is necessarily superior, but it is different from women's viewpoints and provides balance - providing focus and overarching themes.

I do know one thing--I much prefer having our "general discussion" mode of providing balance/ getting a man's input on the SS lesson, than having men as teachers for the women's classes. There are some churches where they feel that the women should not be teaching the SS adult classes--even to their own gender.”

Quoting again–more specifically about general discussion:

About the sharing time/ general discussion debate I wonder if it becomes a question of how we wish to do our worship, (even though the general discussion times may not have necessarily been thought of as times of worship). I found a book recently on one of my friends' bookshelves and wish to read it: People in the Presence of God , by Barry Liesch. I found his overview in the introduction interesting. He noted 5 basic worship models in the Bible:

(I’ve taken the liberty to do some re-formatting to make it a little easier to read.)

I. Family worship (Pre-Sinai model: Parent-led worship in the family) Model #1

II. Small-group worship
A. Pauline model: body life–charismatic worship (dynamics of improvisation, Spirit-guided unity, maximum participation obtainable in small groups–I Cor. 14:26) Model #2
B. Synagogue worship (basic to many Protestant churches, emphasizes structured liturgy and accords a prominent place to worship, Scripture reading, and biblical exposition) Model #3

III. Large-group worship
A. Tabernacle/Temple worship (Tabernacle worship includes elements of worship such as drama, symbolism, the fine arts, and Davidic praise. Temple worship is special-events worship.)
Model #4
B. Revelation worship–worship in heaven (including elements from all of the models, but mostly the tabernacle/temple. It is inclusive, consummate, and timeless.) Model #5

Barry Liesch is an associate professor of music at Biola University in CA. As I said, I picked up the book because I thought it looked interesting. In glancing through it, I thought "this could make an interesting topic for Wednesday evening."

Some from our type of background may have similar reactions to Donald Hustad, who wrote the foreword to the book. He writes, "Reading the manuscript, at times I was not sure that I could agree sufficiently to write this foreword." . . . He continues though to say, "But I continued to read--and discovered that there is much here that will be helpful to any reasonable person."

Rachel continues: "Viewing the question (what to do about the general discussion) from afar, to me the general discussion has been good to potentially provide summary and balance to the individual classes. I liked having it. At the same time, I can see why people wish to have more personal ways of connecting with the group, especially since the group is big and this element can more easily be lost with size."

After her first email, my response to her contained the following, about the difficulty of saying something positive about general discussion without seeming to be against the sharing time, which I do believe has been profitable:

Mrs. I here: “ . . . I think even Amish Mennonites can follow fads in how church happens, and the touchy feelly fad is one possible bunny trail we might follow. I really don't have anything, though, against what has been happening in our share times. What I really object to is what sometimes comes across to me as being dismissive or disdainful toward our general discussion.”

In a later email, after affirming the idea of exploring a "both/and" option instead of only "either/or" options, Rachel added: I would like to see the discussion of Scripture and how it applies to me going more hand in hand. It seems to me formatting it this way, you could have the general discussion/ share time going from 10:25 to 10:50 with singing, share time and general discussion happening all in the same time. The one leading it would give conscious thought as to how these dimensions could smoothly flow together so that the whole would become a worshipful experience, not just "now we do this," and then "now we do the next thing." So much for now. . .

I’m putting the ballot paper aside till the best response becomes more clear to me. In the meantime, I’m listening and praying, emailing Rachel--and blogging, obviously.

Absolutely Preposterous

I can't imagine a more preposterous situation than this one.

I woke up a little before 4:00 and heard rustling on the bedroom floor. It's not carpeted, and I heard occasional encounters with one of the magazines beside my bed. I also heard footsteps and rustling of various sorts. That is one noisy mouse. I hope it's not a rat. Haven't ever seen one of those inside the house since that confused one ten years ago. "Get out of here," I said out loud when I heard the noise too close to me.

Hiromi woke up then. "What's going on?'

"I'm hearing a really noisy mouse, and I'm afraid it's going to climb up onto the bed, so I tried to scare it."

Then I heard a mouse trap snap in the pantry. Good. That mouse is caught, and I can go back to sleep. It was not to be. I soon heard the rustling again right beside my side of the bed, as noisy as ever.

I reached up and turned on my trusty bedside pharmacy light, with its dome shade directing the light to the floor. I was hoping to scare that mouse right out of the bedroom. The light revealed the furry visitor in full glory: a full-grown skunk. It turned and I saw its long bushy tail disappear under the bed.

"Hiromi, there's a skunk in our bedroom," I said quietly.


"There's a skunk in here."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. I saw it. It's under the bed."

"How did it get in here? I'm going to get my boots."

After he left, I wasn't sure what to do, but I was pretty sure I didn't want to stay in the bedroom. I was also pretty sure I didn't want to do anything to scare that skunk enough to make it spray. In retrospect, trying earlier to scare that mouse into silence didn't look so smart. And shining a light directly onto it to try to intimidate it.

When I heard it behind the wicker shelf angled across the inner corner of the bedroom, I had a clear path to the hall and got up and exited the bedroom. I closed the door after me.

Hiromi was dressed by now (in more than boots, fortunately), had collected his mind a bit and said, "Can you get your dresses out of the doorway, so I can close the other door?" (There's a second door to the bedroom that we never use. It's usually open to the study, and I often hang dresses in the doorway to dry.) Before I could do that, Hiromi went back into the bedroom himself and got the dresses. He also had the presence of mind to make sure the closet doors were closed. I closed the second door to the bedroom from the study as soon as the dresses were gone. At least now the skunk wouldn't go wandering elsewhere in the house. But having it locked in the bedroom didn't seem like a great idea either.

Hiromi said, "I'm going to get the live trap. I don't know what I'm going to do with it though."

He came back soon and said he had cleaned up the trap. ????? "Do I smell skunk? he asked. "Yeah. I smell skunk. Why don't you look on the internet to see if you can find out what to do?"

"I did that when Wes and Natasha had the skunk under their house, and I didn't find much of anything. I think what we really ought to do is pray about it."

"OK, let's pray." So we did, together, out loud, holding hands. I prayed especially that we could take care of the problem without that skunk spraying inside the house.

"Can't we just try to guide it out?" I asked, when the prayer was finished.

"That's a good idea. What can we use?"

"Do we have big pieces of cardboard, or wood?" Hiromi disappeared to the shed to look for something. While he was gone, I looked on the internet.

He returned with a six-foot folding table we used at farmer's market. I kept reading. Later he came back with about a half sheet of plywood. Our plan was to guide it into the hall, down the three steps to the landing that has a door into the garage. And out the door, obviously.

The plywood blocked off the opening from the landing to the basement. The six-foot table, on its side, and hinged in the middle, was snugged up next to the bedroom doorway at one end, and from there opened into an obtuse angle facing the short stairway.

"They love sardines, and they prefer darkness to light," I told Hiromi, reporting from my internet search. I remembered the three little sardine cans that had survived Hiromi's pantry purge last week, and was thankful I had exited the bedroom with the light on.

"I saved them for this," Hiromi said implausibly, hurrying to open a sardine can.

I tore a paper plate into small pieces, and we put a tiny bit of sardines on each piece. No need to let that skunk stay long enough to eat his fill, after all. Hiromi put several sardine-anointed paper plate bits right outside the bedroom door in the hall, and a few more all the way to the garage door, which he had propped open. Then he went through the garage toward the live trap outdoors (The garage has a dirt floor and one open side.) dropping bits of sardine oil as he went.

After we were all set, we turned off all the lights elsewhere in the house and Hiromi opened the bedroom door, just long enough to see the skunk for the first time--in front of the closet doors, with its tail high. Not a good sign. He went to wake Grant, while I stood watch. The light from the open bedroom door and a small night light in the hall gave a little light. I stood there with a camera, and realized I didn't even know enough to turn the thing on. I had gotten it so that Hiromi could take a picture of it in the hallway. But now he was off in Grant's room. I gave up on getting a picture. Maybe the flash would have triggered the spray mechanism anyway. Wouldn't want to do that.

Very soon, the skunk came shuffling out of the bedroom into the hall, nosing at the sardine bits. Then it proceeded toward the stairs, and hesitated a bit, going back and forth at the head of the stairs several times. I observed that it took up most of the width of the hall with its outstretched tail when it crossed from one side to the other. I saw it start down the stairs and quickly went to report to Grant and Hiromi. Grant was getting dressed, and he soon followed Hiromi outside with a gun.

Directly, I heard one shotgun blast outdoors, and Hiromi and Grant came back inside.

"Did you get it?"



"Along the fenceline by the cedar trees north of the house."

Relief. Far enough away from the house to keep the odors at bay, with a south wind to carry away whatever disagreeable scent might have been released.

Hiromi carried the table and the plywood back to the shed. Grant went back to bed, and I sat down at the computer.

"Put it on your blog," Hiromi said when he got back. Too late.

"I've already started. Wouldn't want to let a story like that go to waste."


We have no idea how the skunk got inside. Several weeks ago Grant went around with a can of expandable foam insulation and sealed up several mouse-sized holes, and none of us knew then or knows now of any place bigger than those small half-inch-pipe-sized holes. I read that they can squeeze through a space as small as four inches across, so our best guess is that sometime the garage door may have stayed open for a bit (It has to be pulled or pushed to latch right.) and the skunk wandered in. But when? No idea. Maybe the furnace guy left the door open last week and the skunk came in and hid out in the basement in the interim. Whatever.

We're thanking the Lord for as good-as-possible an ending to this story. I'm guessing anyone coming into the house from outdoors might be able to smell a faint animal smell, but I can't smell it

If anyone needs further evidence, hold your nose, and check out the carcass near the big cedar tree north of the house.

Also, if anyone needs evidence that God answers prayer, I dare you to get close to me today and see if you can smell skunk on my clothes. For that answered prayer we can all give thanks.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Time carried a fascinating cover article this week on "Why Your DNA Isn't Your Destiny." It talks about the new science of epigenetics, and how genes can be switched on or off, and the version that gets passed on to offspring reflects the current "switch state" during conception and pregnancy.

Some of the research cited in defense of this theory was done on a remote population in northern Sweden. Ninety-nine people born in 1905 were studied, with the lives of their parents and grandparents studied also. Their life-span was noted, and the cause of death noted as well. Along with this, the agricultural record revealed times of famine so severe that it resulted in starvation for many. At other times, when the harvest was plentiful, people gorged themselves for a period of time. By correlating this data, the astonishing finding was that the people who were children during the gorging times later produced children and grandchildren whose lives were considerably shortened, by about 32 years, when adjusted for socioeconomic variations--compared to those who were the offspring of people who had endured poor harvests and food shortages. In blunt terms, a single winter of gluttonous eating as a youngster initiated "a biological chain of events that would lead one's grandchildren to die decades earlier than their peers did." Epigenetics says that this happened because of inheritable gene alterations as a result of behavioral factors.

After the Sweden research was done, a researcher and geneticist in England came to similar conclusions using data gathered during a longitudinal study involving parents and children. Bygren was the principal Swedish researcher, and Pembrey the British one.

Research into developing drugs that control gene switches shows promise. Imagine, for example, that a tumor-suppressing gene that has been switched off by disease could be switched on again, or a longevity gene could be switched on, after gluttony in an ancestor has switched it off.

The gene-switch theory explains why identical twins do not always develop the same ailments. Something in the environment apparently has made the gene switches behave differently. While the genes are the same, their expression has been altered.

I'm not pinning my hopes on a new drug to reverse whatever physical ailments I have now. But I will continue to take glyconutrient food supplements, and Vitamin B, and all-the-other-good-for-you-stuff I swallow in pill form regularly. I'm also thinking admiringly of the mother I heard of recently who offered her daughter $100.00 if she went through the school year limiting- to-almost-nothing her intake of empty-calorie desserts. The student's children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren might yet rise up and call this mother blessed.

Three Deaths

During announcements today at church we heard about the passing of three men from other states, whose lives were of interest to members of our congregation for a variety of reasons.

One was Milton Ream, who worshiped with us for a number of years. Early on he had cautiously asked whether he would be welcome to continue to worship with us, even if he did not intend to become a member here. When he got an affirmative answer, he was satisfied, and came regularly for Sunday morning worship--not for Sunday School though. He was a Quaker, and did not feel a need for what must have seemed less contemplative than was ideal.

Milton came to this area to work as librarian at HCF, the correctional facility in Hutchinson. I met him sometimes at the Hutchinson Public Library, where he often went to find books an inmate had requested. He had grown up in Cherokee, OK where he eventually returned, after he retired from his HCF job. Retirement happened for him when his aging parents needed someone to help care for them. He knew they wished to stay in their own home, and Milton's help made it possible for them to do so. His parents died several years ago, very nearly at the same time.

Milton, who had diabetes, began soon after to have serious health problems of his own. His foot eventually had to be amputated, and he went to a nursing home. He was lonely, and people from here sometimes went to visit him. After his parents died, his closest surviving relatives were his Aunt Ruby and his sister and her family. Unfortunately there was a major rift in his relationship with his sister and her attorney husband. Among other things, they had taken legal action against him in an attempt to have Milton's parents placed in a nursing home. After Milton himself was at the nursing home, others arranged for his and his parents' belongings to be sold at auction. This was very difficult for him.

Several weeks ago, David and Susanna were making plans to visit Milton, and placed a call to the nursing home before they left home in Kansas. Someone from there informed David that Milton had died several weeks ago. As David put it when he told our congregation last week, "Either we didn't leave enough information for someone to contact us, or there was another reason we weren't contacted." The attorney brother-in-law conducted a graveside service. There was no other service.

Today David told us that they had gone yesterday to Cherokee to learn something more about Milton's passing. They visited the cemetery where he was buried and then went to the nursing home. There they learned that he had apparently died suddenly during the night. They also learned that his beloved Aunt Ruby had died two days after Milton did. A woman who overheard the conversation stepped forward then and identified herself as a close friend of Ruby's. She was able to fill in some more of the blanks about Milton's life and death.

Many in our church have keepsakes that Milton gave us. For Hiromi, there is the book on home businesses that he gave us after Hiromi was laid off earlier. Lowell's family often invited him for Sunday dinner. Joey has a book on butterflies from Milton that has enabled him to identify many different species that are found in Kansas. Earlier he had paid for a silhouette artist to do "pictures" of Hannah and Christy. He saw to it that the silhouettes were mounted and framed and wanted them to give a set to their grandparents. One set is still hanging in my parents' bedroom. He dug up and brought me a clump of hardy asters that grow wild in Oklahoma. They were tall and deep purple and lovely.

We all knew Milton as a very gentle man, and a gentleman in the usual sense of the word. His obituary revealed things about him that I did not know:

"He graduated from Cherokee High School in 1956. Following high school, he earned a bachelor of arts degree in history and English from North-western Oklahoma State University in December 1959, graduating with honors. He was a certified teacher in both Oklahoma and Kansas and taught high school in Kiowa, Kan., and Cullison, Kan. He was an accomplished musician playing several instruments and was a member of the Orchestra of Northwestern Oklahoma. During his career, he was an instructor in English at the University of North Alabama, Florence, Ala. He furthered his studies at Queens’ College, Cadbury, England. He also did scholarly work on the history of the Society of Friends at the University of Oklahoma, where he received a master of library science degree. He was awarded the designation of certified archivist by the United States Archives, where he worked in Washington, D.C. He was subsequently appointed as a librarian at Bryn Mawr University, Philadelphia, Penn. He returned to the Plains when appointed by the state of Kansas to establish libraries in correctional institutions."

Milton never married. He told Hiromi once that as a young man he planned to marry, but it didn't happen when he was in his twenties. In his thirties, he realized that it was time to do something about it if he wanted to marry, but nothing worked out then either. When he neared 40 he decided that maybe it wasn't a big deal whether or not he got married, and he sort of gave up on the plan.

At one point, when Milton was feeling especially forsaken in recent years, and people here wished to be able to have more contact with him, we discussed the situation and voted to bring him to this area to live if things could be satisfactorily arranged. Things never quite came together for reasons I've forgotten. Today David thanked us for the welcome we extended to his friend Milton, and gave us all enough information to help us find closure to his death.

When the Center Beachys get to heaven, there's one Quaker we'll all be eager to re-unite with.


Another death announced today was that of Simon Schrock, the uncle of the Simon Schrock who writes books and works for Choice Books. The uncle was formerly the administrator of Hillcrest Home in Arkansas where many from here served in the past.

I have a mental picture of that man, but did not know him very well personally. I remember that his wife was Elsie, and they were both appreciated by many. At Hillcrest, they interacted regularly with both old and young people, and I have no doubt that many of them will be glad to meet up again with Simon in heaven.

Today on Facebook I read a post by the man who will preach at his funeral. That man was once a baby in our church, and I remember holding him (or was it his brother?) during church in the balcony at Arlington while his Mom took care of some of her other children during her husband's preaching. Small world, and all that.


The third death announced was that of Peter Dyck, who died at the age of 95. This man was widely known in Mennonite circles. Children who have read Henry's Red Sea know about him. Many have met him through his tireless promotion of the work of MCC. People here who are old enough to remember have wonderful memories of the time he spoke here in a series of meetings recounting his experiences as a starving child in Russia at the time of the revolution, a young married man helping Russian German refugees survive in East Germany and eventually escape to the West, and a sober adult who helped some of those refugees in their struggles to survive in their new home, the Chaco in Paraguay. I wrote an earlier post about the time he witnessed there the struggle of one congregation to honor the principle of the permanence of marriage, even in desperate circumstances.

I mentioned years ago in a Keepers at Home article another memorable story he told. His saying I've never forgotten is Old bread is not hard; no bread--that is hard. That was his wrapup after he had told about the people around him in Russia who had starved. His best six-year old friend had already died, and he himself was near death when help arrived from MCC. Peter Dyck's saying has helped drive my crusade against picky eating and complaining about food in general.

I can imagine Peter's joyful reunion in heaven with people who helped him in the past, and people he was able to help personally later. Along the way, there must have been many like me, who never knew him personally, but were ministered to by his storytelling ability, in the context of a life lived out in Christian service.


Christian faith is a wonderful bond. When another who has walked with God dies, we feel grief, but there is never sorrow for having known the story of a life lived in the service of Christ. For that, we always feel gratitude.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Mango Beans

True or False question on Food Production quiz I gave students yesterday, after a lesson in the previous class on producing edible sprouts:

Mango bean sprouts are popular in Asian foods.

Everyone in the class answered "true," except Marvin, who thought it should be "Italian" foods instead of Asian. He got the right answer using the wrong logic. Heidi also got the answer right today, after having missed class and the quiz yesterday.

It is, of course, mung beans that are used for sprouts.

I had talked about mung beans in class, and my puzzlement about how long commercially produced sprouts always are--in contrast to my home-produced ones. I had given them a handout with a detailed chart of how the nutrient content of mung beans changes when they are sprouted. I did not ask a single detailed question on the nutrient content of mung bean sprouts, but I did hope they knew what to call the thing we were talking about and reading about. So I did not take a great deal of pity on those who cried "foul" when they realized their mistake on the quiz. The m and n and g are the same they reminded me hopefully.

I'm still having fun trying to imagine what a mango bean might look like.

For Local Farmers

Kit Pharo, from Pharo Cattle Company in eastern Colorado, is speaking at a conference in McPherson on Saturday, Jan. 23. Anyone in the area who has an interest in producing beef cattle would enjoy hearing him speak. I've posted more information on this event at school, on the back of some of the student offices facing the school entrance. I wish some of the students in my food production class would go to the event, but I suspect the $35.00 fee is a hindrance, and perhaps more significantly, it might make it impossible to sleep in on that Saturday.

I've been getting the email newsletters the Pharos produce ever since my brother Ronald told me about them. Earlier I had heard my dad and farmer brothers talking about their philosophy.

Kit Pharo is a kindred spirit to Joel Salatin. I don't know if they've ever met, but I hear some of the same philosophy coming through from both of them, especially with regard to pasture feeding rather than fattening animals in confinement. They are both Christians and seem to have similar political views.

I'm always interested especially in food production models that are feasible on smaller acreages. The smaller cattle (Angus, Hereford, and Tarentaise) that are produced by Pharo cattle company have many traits that focus on "optimum" production rather than "maximum" production. Among other things, they are generally easy to handle, very hardy, and able to grow and produce well on forage only. The Pharos select for mid-to-low-range frame scores, rather than high scores. In other words, they are shorter cattle, not necessarily less muscled.

An internet search on Pharo Cattle company will lead you to their website where you can learn more details about their cattle and their philosophy. Look on Kansas Rural Center's site for more details on the upcoming meeting.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

How to Have Church

For more than a year, our church has been experimenting with various schedules for our Sunday morning worship. The variables have included 1) general discussion of the Sunday School lesson following individual Sunday School classes, and general assembly at the same time for the children (our pattern for the past 50 years) 2) testimony/share time instead of the general gatherings 3) testimony/share time instead of the opening devotions. Today we had a public discussion of the options.

We returned from the service at the Manor after the discussion was already underway, so I'm not sure how things started out. But the part I heard involved some lively discussion, with almost every variable being defended by someone who didn't want to see it dropped.

"The devotions are exceptional, and I'd hate to miss out on them."

"The share time has really helped me feel connected to others in the church."

"Our children really look forward to their story time in the general assembly."

"The women in our family say they find it easy to tune out during the general discussion."

"I'd hate to see us make a decision today that would be set in concrete for the next 50 years."

"I like changing things around every once in a while."

"I like our singing, and notice that we do less of it when we have more personal share time."

Several people made vague references to the value of discussing Scripture as we have traditionally done during the general discussion. But, of course, no one wanted to say out loud that they preferred it above sharing on a personal level. How would that sound to anyone who has shared in the past?

I don't think I've ever heard anyone who did not grow up here defend this "general discussion" practice. Nor have I ever heard a young person defend it. I have heard some of these people express dissatisfaction with it.

I have never said anything publicly about it--till today--after the comment about the women who tune out. . . . lest people think that is a unanimous practice among women. In short, I pointed out that since we have single-gender classes, without the general discussion, we women only hear what other women think about the Sunday School passages. I like hearing what the men think too.

So what does that say about me? That I'm dismissive of my own gender, as if it's not on par with males? That I'm afraid to form an opinion without being under the direction of men who tell me what to think? (I see that smirk.) No. I love hearing what other women are thinking. I am quite capable of forming an opinion on my own. But we women tend to think differently than men, and yes, I think we have a greater tendency to go off on unproductive tangents than men do. They can fail to get as practical as they ought to sometimes, but we can just as easily lose sight of the big picture. So I think it's best if we hear each other and learn from each other, as happens in general assembly.

I will admit too that once, years ago, I overheard something being said in another women's class (and not countered) that I fervently hoped someone would set straight in general discussion. It seemed very wide of the mark to me.

When I have been a teacher, and not been quite sure if I was on firm ground with something I said, I've always been glad that there was a second chance for my students to hear a correction, if need be.

I have, however, not always agreed with what I heard in general assembly. I remember one time when I spoke admiringly to my Sunday School class of a certain woman in the Bible, and what I saw in her actions. In the general assembly, the person in charge was critical of her actions. I simply talked to him privately afterward, to see if I needed to change my mind and admit an error to my class. I decided my viewpoint had just as much validity as his, and I did not back-pedal to my class. The Bible itself did not comment on the woman's actions, and I figured the women in my class were all grown up and could make up their own mind. For this discussion, the point is that, because of general assembly, my students heard a varying viewpoint that they would not have heard without it, and it was good for them, no doubt. (Would it have been good for everyone in the larger group to hear my viewpoint? We won't go there.)

It's a little embarrassing to admit that I really like to hear what men think, and I've tried to figure out why that is so. I know it's been true ever since I was quite young. Maybe I have an abnormal brain or a twisted psyche.

Just today it occurred to me that in our church, as a group, overall, most of the men have devoted more time in studying, and in preparing for and practicing teaching and speaking than most of the women have. I respect them for having made this investment and believe it pays off in terms of insight and wisdom and ability to communicate. It pays off when women do this too. Maybe I especially love listening to well-prepared people, and often they are men.

In a different vein, the whole discussion about whether we should designate a certain block of time for discussing Scripture or sharing our personal experiences, needs, insights, testimonies, etc. brings up something I feel just a trifle uneasy about. It's like the difference between singing hymns and singing gospel songs. One speaks of who God is and what He thinks, and the other speaks of what man thinks and experiences. Both of them have a place, but most of us take quite naturally to self-preoccupation, and many of us could afford to put more effort into understanding God (the Ultimate Other) and His words and ways. For that reason, I feel caution about dropping the focus on Scripture during a certain segment of the service, in favor of turning our attention primarily to what people are thinking and feeling.

However, I understand that relationships are an important part of living together in the body of Christ, and hearing from each other helps to foster good relationships, and fervent care for each other. I too have really enjoyed hearing from others during the sharing times we've had. I'd hate to do without them.

It was a little hard to find a good stopping place in today's discussion. Finally David, our bishop, got up and said it sounds to him like we all really enjoy church. No one, however, has suggested starting at 9:00 instead of 9:30 so that we have time to do all that everyone wants to do. We chuckled collectively, and saw that compromise would be a necessity.

Some time soon we'll probably take a vote and do what the majority of the people want to do. If I don't know for sure how to vote by then, I might have to write about it again so I can figure it out--unless you help me figure it out by writing about it.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Making Announcements

Hiromi makes quite a few announcements of his own volition. Almost every night he says, "I'm going to bed." Nearly every morning he says something like, "I slept well," or "I had a lousy night." Or, as one of the few people in the US who actually uses the simple present tense of a verb, he might say, "I go feed the sheep."

In contrast, when I'm tired, or the clock says I should be--whichever comes first, I quietly creep off to the bedroom and turn in. If Hiromi's not there yet, I usually tell him goodnight wherever he is, before I turn off the light. (Wouldn't want to be disturbed to have to spell a word or read and interpret a passage about whether Constantine considered the Donatists a schism group or not.) In the morning I get on with the day without a lot of reflection on whether I slept well or not. I consider my sleeping hours rather unremarkable.

But at the oddest times, Hiromi's willing-announcement mode fails him. Like last night.

We had a church-wide New Year's Eve gathering, which began with a half hour of hot drinks and socializing. Then we had a one-hour service with hearty group singing and voluntary sharing of personal aspirations or goals for our church family, followed by announcements and prayer. Meanwhile, someone on the food committee was busy grilling bratwurst and hot dogs. Right after the service we ate the aforementioned meats in a sandwich, along with many finger foods brought in by those who attended the service. When cleanup was done, Lowell and Judy and Joe and Marilyn organized and supervised some group games, one group gathering upstairs and one downstairs. Others, according to preference, divided into smaller groups to play games. At 11:45, we all gathered again in the sanctuary and had prayer until after midnight.

It was a great evening all around, except for a small disagreement Hiromi and I had about the announcements.

The composition class I taught the past semester does what I call a community writing project every year. The title for this year's booklet is Wild and Wearying Weather: Notable Weather Events in Reno County, Kansas. The students did a fine lot of work interviewing people to record their personal memories, doing research to fill in or affirm details, and writing it all down. After a number of glitches prevented us from getting the books printed and assembled before Christmas as we had hoped (Weird things happened to the numbering sequence in the footnotes when we imported the individual articles into one document, and the editing wasn't quite finished on the last day before break. Also the floors at the school/church were being refinished over vacation, and the floor in the copier room was off-limits when we needed the copier.), we finally got all the books ready for sale on Wednesday. Kimberly took the ones for Cedar Crest and Tim took the ones for Arlington. Tim was going to make an announcement at Arlington, and Kimberly was going to ask her dad to make an announcement at Cedar Crest. I kept the Center ones because we weren't having church till Thursday, New Year's Eve, and was going to decide later whether it should be Seth or James making the Center announcement.

Long story short, the day on Thursday filled up with food preparation, and the planned trip to school to pick up the "weather" booklets didn't happen till we were on our way for the evening gathering. We missed the pre-service social hour entirely (largely because Hiromi ate supper before we left home) and arrived after the service started. I remembered then that I had not arranged for anyone to make the announcement about the booklets, and Seth and James were sitting up front and far away. Just before Hiromi and I walked in, I asked him if he would make the announcement. Would you believe he refused me in that hour of need?

"You can," he said. "Just get up and do it."

Hiromi does not understand about these things. For starters, at our church, while announcements are an equal opportunity affair, custom usually assigns the duty to males. On a personal level, I don't like to stand up in front of everyone at church for many other good reasons. I feel fat. My hair is not clean. My zipper shrank after it was sewed in, and it wrinkles all the way up the back, and it's not sewed in quite deep enough at the top, and it doesn't quite reach the apex of its intended ascent. People will think I did not let Hiromi make the announcement because I thought he wouldn't do a good enough job. What will that suggest about how the roles are divided at our house? And how Biblical they are?

Maybe I could get by without standing to make the announcement. No. Hiromi said to get up and do it.

So I did.

I apologized to Seth and James afterward for failing to contact them in time to have them do the announcing. They seemed heartbroken, as expected--or not.

And that is the inside story of how Hiromi and I deal individually, and together, with the making of announcements.