Prairie View

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Growing Up In Church

I'm trying to dream up a story for Chris Terrill’s upcoming "book" about growing up in Partridge.  I think I'll write about incidents associated with going to church.  I will tell the truth, mind you, so it's not a dream in the sense of being outside of reality.  This is a practice run.

Actually, one of my first church memories is of having missed a service when I was two years old, in 1954.  It was the service in which my 27-year-old father, David L. Miller, was ordained as a minister.  Since the service was an all-day affair, my three-year old sister, Linda, and I were left at Uncle Edwin and Aunt Nellie's place.  I heard only recently that my mother sat where she couldn't really see the goings-on.  While she knew that her husband was designated by vote earlier in the service to be among the candidates for ordination, she could not see the process of drawing the lots.  The method used was for each of the candidates to select a song book from a small table placed in front of them.  In only one of the books was concealed a slip of paper.  The person who picked up that book was promptly ordained.  My father was that person.

Being too old to take a cookie when the plate was passed for the little ones during church was a particular disappointment for me one Sunday morning when church was held at the home of Mose and Amanda Yoder, about a half mile east of the East Eureka School location.  When my mom shook her head “no” I didn’t dare disobey, and the plate passed me by.

Lunch followed the preaching services in the homes.  The menu was basically the same each time: homemade bread, spread with peanut butter and corn syrup, and beet and cucumber pickles on the side.  The adults got coffee.  We ate in shifts, with the children first.  Some of the benches we had sat on for church were re-purposed by fitting the legs of two benches next to each other onto low saw-horse shaped wooden supports, forming a long narrow table.  More benches provided seating at the table.  My mother was apparently not averse to breaking with tradition, when she once served chicken salad for sandwiches instead of peanut butter.  She had a very practical reason for doing so.  Their flock of laying hens had just been retired and added to their food supply, and it made no sense whatsoever to ignore that ready food source and purchase peanut butter, which seemed to her like an expensive luxury item.  People visited for a while after the meal and then gradually drifted toward home or elsewhere to pay someone a visit in their home.  In the evening the young people returned for a song service.

Locations for the church services rotated among the homes of members.  Occasionally the services were held in a vacant house, with a designated family serving as hosts.  I remember riding on a tractor (a Massey-Harris 55) out to the farm west of Miller Seed Farms to get that house ready for church.  The tractor was necessary because of huge mud holes from a recent rain, and we slipped and slid through the mud holes to get to the house.  My aunt Emma (Mrs. Oliver Troyer) was the tractor driver.

In 1958, a major reorganization took place, about the same time as Elreka Grade School opened with students from several surrounding smaller schools making up the student body.  One of the school buildings that emptied out was East Eureka (at the intersection of Riverton Road and Illinois Avenue), and those in our church district began to hold Sunday School there.  Every footstep was audible on the hardwood floors of the school building.  My three-year-old brother Myron, who had a habit of going much too fast and noisily whenever he got permission to move from one place to another during the service, finally got the message about the need to be slower and quieter, but that proved to be distracting too.  A titter swept over the crowd when they saw him inch his way across the floor, one foot placed in front of the other ever-so-carefully, quietly, and slowly, checking periodically to see if Mom was impressed yet.  He was totally confused when she motioned to him to hurry up.

We had Sunday School only every other Sunday.   On the Sundays in between Sunday School times, we, along with the people formerly from several other area Amish church districts, met for preaching services in the building now occupied by Ellen Nisly on the corner of W. Morgan and S. Herren Road, 1/2 mile west of Center Church.  I often sat with one of my aunts or great-aunts when it was my Dad's turn to preach.

I have several memories of evening meetings during the mid-'50s.  One meeting took place in the roundtop shed on the Jake Yoder farm, where Henry and Velma Yoder live now, on Riverton Road.  I heard the hymn "Rescue the Perishing" there for the first time ever.  I was a little scared about perishing (falling and killing myself would have been my worry-words) in the pit in center of the concrete shed floor.  Someone explained to me that it was for working on the underside of vehicles, when the vehicle was parked on top of the hole.  Even the thought of driving a vehicle so close to that hole gave me the shivers.

Coming home from church on the back of a low-sided wagon behind the 8N Ford tractor on a warm summer evening was a wonderful thing.  Stars overhead, the cooling wind, and the nearness and safety of my family around me--such a pleasure.  On one occasion, my grandparents and aunts and uncles were providing transportation for us, and had also offered Mahlon Nisly a ride home, since we were all going home past his home anyway.  The driver, however, forgot to stop to let Mahlon off, and he couldn't hear the shouted reminders over the tractor's noise, so Mahlon bailed out of the moving trailer--safely, I guess, but I knew that it would be a very bad idea for me to try that.

I also recall sitting on the basement steps of the church house and listening to the youth group practicing their singing after church in the evening for a service they held regularly one Sunday afternoon a month at "Broadacres," an area facility for the elderly.  I first learned the words to "The Love of God" and many other hymns in those listening sessions.

Our family's first vehicle was a '53  Chevy, probably purchased in about 1959.  No more going to church behind the buggy horse, Steve, or on the Mayrath (an open motorized conveyance with a bench seat mounted on a four-wheeled frame), or on a wagon behind a tractor.  I don’t remember mourning the loss, however.

After Center Church was built in 1959, we no longer met in the Sunday School house, at East Eureka School, or in homes.  Most of those who had been part of several different Old Order districts now met together regularly in the new location.  The land for Center Church was carved out of a corner of the farm where my dad had grown up.  Before long, we began to use a portion of each Sunday service for Sunday School, with a preaching service following.

When it was Dad’s turn to preach at Center, my brothers had to sit on the front bench on the men's side where my dad could keep an eye on them.  Sometimes he had to interrupt the sermon to tend to his boys.  I remember him saying once, in "Dutch," from the pulpit, “Boys, you’ll have to behave a little better.  Myron, you scoot a little farther this way, and Caleb, you scoot a little farther that way.”  In those first months or years, the preaching happened in a mixture of English, German, and Pennsylvania German (sometimes called Pennsylvania Dutch--the Swiss-German dialect used by most Amish people).  If we had visitors who understood only English, however, the preaching was entirely in English.

Downstairs, during the Sunday School hour, my Sunday School teacher drilled us on reading German in the old Fraktur script.  I learned to read and understand it passably--for a seven or eight year old, at least.  I was probably one of the youngest students to get this instruction, since the complete switch to using the English Bible in church happened shortly after this.

For about ten years, from about 1968 to 1978, our family and a number of others met on Sunday morning in a small church building near Arlington.  It had been a Mennonite church earlier.  No indoor plumbing had never been installed, so we brought a big insulated water jug from home for drinking water and used the outhouses when needed.  The building of the Cedar Crest Church relieved the crowding situation at Center, and attendance at Arlington ceased.

At Arlington, the adolescents usually sat in the “Amen” corners, at the front of the sanctuary and to either side of the pulpit, in rows of chairs at right angles to the pews in the sanctuary.  One morning my brother Lowell had put some small steel bearings in his shirt pocket before church, no doubt hoping to play with them surreptitiously during church.  To his great chagrin, those steel bearings bounced out of his pocket when we knelt for prayer, and they bounced repeatedly and loudly across that hardwood floor, and rolled away.  On the way home from church, Mom asked Lowell if he lost his marbles during church.  “No.  I lost my bearings,” he answered.

On the way home from church at Arlington, we often stopped in Partridge to pick up our Sunday paper.  Outside the post office, in a box on a post placed there for that purpose, we sorted through the stack until we found the paper with our name on it.  What a disappointment when our paper was not there. Rumor had it that at least one paper was missing nearly every Sunday.  It was a nasty trick.  Whenever we got close to Partridge, one of my brothers would usually say: “OK, half you guys duck.  Now.”  We ignored him, of course. We were packed in a lot tighter than seat belt and car seat laws in effect now would allow, and that was just fine with most of us, adolescent brothers notwithstanding.

Church was a huge part of our family’s life in my growing up years.  When a service was going on, we attended, unless illness prevented it.  In the process, we developed deep ties with others in our faith community, all the while benefiting from the solid foundation our mutual dependence on God provided.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Buying, Saling, and Trading

The Reno County Buy, Sell, Trade group on Facebook has a number of participants who apparently don't know the difference between sell and sale  as in "I have a new modem for sell . . . "  I've seen the other confusion also:  "I need to sale . . . "    I'm grinding my teeth over here.


I'm definitely hoping for a special deal for sharing this next commercial.  I and some members of my extended family are making a purchase from the offer I am just about to tell you about.  I have never bought from this place before, but the CASP cooks have purchased this product and loved it (only the pickup site was in Wichita instead of Hutchinson).  The stuff is supposed to be good for you, and the price is reasonable.  And yes, I am going on and on on purpose to tantalize you, but I suspect I may be irritating you.

The pick up site is at Grace Bible Church at 1221 East 33rd Avenue on Thursday, October 10 between 5:45 and 6:15 p. m.  It's shipped in 40 lb. boxes, and is fresh--not frozen.  It does not contain antibiotics or hormones.  It costs about $1.84 per pound before taxes.  A 40-lb. box costs $73.60 + $5.81 tax for a total of $79.41.  You can purchase it by credit card at this site:  Here are the instructions from that site:
Q – How do I place an order?
A – To order, you must be registered and already be logged in to your account. On the main "My Account" page, scroll down the list of upcoming events, find your preferred event and click on the "Click here to place an order"   For locals, the preferred event will be the Grace Bible Church event.  

If you like all of the above and follow through on all of the above, you will bring home at least 40 lbs. of boneless, skinless chicken breast meat to repackage for your own freezer.  Tell me if you decide to buy or tell them you heard about it from me--or however this works--and I get a tiny discount on  future purchases.  I understand that this company ships all over the US, as long as orders in any given area reach a critical mass. 

Added later:  I understand now that if you click on this link, your order will automatically result in a bonus on my account.  Here's the link:   Also, my email is, in case that would work.  (It didn't, for at least one person, so that's why I am giving another option.)  This option came as a link in an email from Zaycon telling me that someone listed me as having referred them.  I'm glad one person got it figured out.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Taking On Popular Culture

The conversation with my typing students about suitable topics for the classroom took more courage to initiate than I expected, and went better, in general, than I expected.

I started by asking the students how they would define "pop culture." No one seemed to know, till I told them that one proper use of the term is simply as an abbreviation for popular culture.  I said it's what most of the people in a given culture think well of, like, admire, cultivate, etc.  Then I asked what they think of as being popular in American culture.  One perceptive student answered, "Sports, actors and actresses, musicians."  Exactly.

I hadn't actually planned to include musicians in the discussions and prohibitions, but I went on to talk about brain space and what we choose to fill our brain space with.  I urged the students to think about whether what they are preoccupied with is something that will move them closer to where they wish to be in life.  I also asked if there is value in being familiar with popular culture.

One person said, in effect, that when a person issues a prohibition, she/he  (I'm being coy here.) wants to know that the "prohibitor" knows what he/she is talking about.  In other words, if people are ignorant of something, they shouldn't presume to tell others how to act regarding that thing.  There is some validity to this, of course, but to illustrate another side of the issue, I told about the time our exchange student wanted to buy Eminem recordings and we took him to a book/music store where such things were sold.

None of us were very knowledgeable about this particular musician, although we were pretty sure he wasn't our kind.  Hiromi and I both walked over to the display of his music and began to peruse the lyrics.  Horrors.

Hiromi promptly told our "son" that the lyrics are really bad, and he doesn't think he should fill his mind with that.  The student answered by saying that he doesn't listen to the lyrics.  In his case, that may have been true, given his lack of familiarity with the English language.  In class I went on to say that some things are so bad that we all know very well that they're far on the other side of a line we should never cross, and we need never apologize for knowing little or nothing about them.  Students gave assent to this.

Other things, however, are less clear.  Yet, we all know that a line exists somewhere, and staying on the right side of that line is important.  Leaving a wide margin as we approach that line is probably prudent. I said also that I don't believe that every mention of popular culture is automatically bad, but whatever is discussed in that line will have to happen somewhere other than typing class if it happens at all.   I promised not to cut off anyone's head if they happened to forget, but I hoped they would remind each other as needed.  The students were a fairly sober bunch after that.

The reminders indeed began to happen the very next class period.  Then someone asked if they could discuss musicians.  "Figure out for yourself if they fit in the popular culture category," I suggested, "and then ask if there is value in their musical contribution for some reason other than the fact that they're popular.  Be prepared to explain how their contribution is valuable if you want to talk about them."  Not my exact words, but the general idea.

Today we talked about how it is that non-Christians can come up with contributions of great value--because all were made in the image of God and possess many abilities worth celebrating.  The reality of sin as a corruption of that God-image (especially in terms of creative ability) must be recognized also, so it's important to be discerning about what is created by people who do not live a Godly life.   I used the care of the earth as an example of something that is similar in terms of seeing a lot of good being accomplished by people who make no profession of faith.   Yet we must part company with such people on some level--when they devalue humans, for example, and see them only as part of the problems on earth, or when they elevate animals to the level of humans.  I didn't actually get much of the last sentence conveyed in class.

I'm not sure that students are very happy about the turn things have taken, but I'll give them credit for trying to cooperate.  I'm praying that they'll find a wealth of worthwhile things to share in class.  If that happens, they'll probably wonder some day why they ever thought certain elements of popular culture were so fascinating.


The Facebook exchange below is not directly related to the above content.  I believe, however, that it is peripherally related in this regard:  parental interest, initiative, and responsibility can be the beginning of many good things in a young person's life.  Their absence can wreak more havoc than is often understood.  Thanks to Big Josh for the initial post.

"We are the only civilization in history to have created a whole category of people (adolescents) for whom we have no real use. In times not long gone by, fourteen-year-olds helped on the farm. They assisted with the animals, cared for younger siblings, and helped get the crops in before the frost. If they lived in the city, they got into the shops and found jobs as apprentices, helpers, stock clerks, or custodians. They had a role in society – and they understood that hard work and responsible behavior were the keys to future success. They were in partnership with adult members.

Now, however, we have “protected” them out of jobs, and relegated young adolescents to the roles of pizza consumer and videotape junkie… Children this age need to be needed, but we have institutionalized our rebuff to their pleas to be of service. "
- read this on a blog, dont know who wrote it, but i agree.
Unlike ·  · 
  • You, Susie BeilerHolli NissleyJoe Kuepfer and 18 others like this.
  • Miriam Iwashige Preach it brother! To extrapolate--And then we confine them inside brick walls for most of their waking hours, and make it nearly impossible for them to exert any control over their activities and surroundings, assign them many tasks that seem meaningless, and expect them to emerge at the end of that time with initiative and optimism intact, and with a desire to serve others and live unselfishly. Sometimes I can't believe that we who claim to live life purposefully and thoughtfully have so thoroughly bought into this absurdity.
  • Miriam Iwashige While this rant is on a roll--Maybe we shouldn't be surprised when people who "have no real use" seek ever more time-consuming, expensive, and novel ways of being entertained, and when they seem to feel that these activities are unassailable rights.
  • Josh Yoder Miriam, you would probably enjoy this guy's blog. Though not written from a christian perspective, he's got a lot of good ideas. (I got the quote from him)
  • Miriam Iwashige Thanks Josh. I'll check it out.
  • Edwin Mast sounds like a quote from the book Do Hard Things by Alexx and Brett Harris
  • Bryce Miller I don't suppose minimum wage laws are helping any.
  • Jadon Nisly And they were dying in factory fires and farm accidents...exploited and due to their brain chemistry bad at judging risk. just saying... labor laws have done a lot of good
  • Josh Yoder Thats very true jadon. Labor laws have saved them from exploitation, now the parents need to make sure they have constructive and educational hobbies and chores
  • Miriam Iwashige My thoughts exactly, Josh. The onus really is on parents. Probably not everyone would allow their young adolescent boys to launch their own woodcutting business as we did, but then not everyone has a "safety freak" of a dad, who worked with them initially and taught them very specifically how to work safely. Their worst injuries were pokes and scratches from hedge (Osage Orange) thorns. Parents are far more likely to care about their children's safety (among other things) than anyone else will.
  • Bryce Miller Wait, how is it exploiting an adolescent to let him get a job? Do the rest of us work in sweatshops? How about a grocery store for $6/hr? It's better than $0/hr and boredom.

The blogger whom Josh quoted (who was in turn quoting someone else) is an unschooler, I learned when I visited the blog.  He is yet another example of someone who has his head on straight about any number of things--allowing his children to do real work, for example, rather than isolating them from it. Unschooling, however, as an educational approach (or non-approach) feels to me to be inordinately child-centered and unfocused.  Yet I wholeheartedly embrace the idea that if what we do educationally is all about convenience for parents rather than what is good for children, we are missing the mark.

Maybe someday  my typing students will take on the task of discussing what a good education looks like and how all of us can work together to make it happen.  If it happens, the impetus will surely have to come from somewhere other than popular culture.  I'll be all ears.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Changing the Subject

Typists are usually reasonably good at multitasking, so in my typing class I generally let the conversation ebb and flow in whatever ways happen naturally.  I think that's about to change a little bit.  For the first time in my memory, I plan to declare two subjects off-limits during typing class.

It's not that these subjects have come up for the first time this year.  They've always been present to some degree.  It's just that I see enough evidence of excesses to be concerned, and, while I can't do much to change values elsewhere, in our little space together, the focus of the conversation is going to shift--or maybe we'll all see how we like silence as an alternative.

I feel no need to know the following:

Which sports teams played last night--or last week.

Who won those games.

Which players played well.

Which players played badly.

What should have happened differently.

The names of players on teams from our state.

Which teams will play soon.

Which announcers are bad.

Which announcers act outrageous.

Whether students came by their "sports craziness" (direct quote) courtesy of family influence or personal "initiative."

That eating pizza and watching an online game is preferable to eating pizza at the table in the company of family members, with good conversation going on.

Verbatim quotes from movies.

Verbatim quotes from movies, recited in unison.

Verbatim quotes from movies, recited in the voice of the movie character.

There's a wide world beyond sports and movies, much of which can be enjoyed directly rather than vicariously.  If we talk about other good things during typing class, maybe hearts will follow, and minds and spirits will expand to include a focus on what is truly admirable and worthy of emulating.  If that happens, I doubt that I'll ever again need to enforce a "change the subject" request.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Alfalfa and Accidental Death

Hiromi and I keep an eagle eye on the alfalfa field just 25 yards away from the double patio doors on the east side of our house.  That field was struggling when we moved here in June.  The first time Doug Harner's son Colby pulled into it with his swather (with his dad on board for the first round or two), he left behind pathetic windrows.  The cut-hay rows inched along--thin, flat ribbons even before drying had shrunken them further.  Raking two rows into one several days later bulked up the rows only slightly, and baling resulted in only a bale wagon or so full of bales--from 40 acres of alfalfa. The only good thing about that hay crop was that it didn't get rained on.  Or maybe that really was the bad thing about that hay crop.  It had too long a history of no rain.

Then came lavish rains.  The alfalfa leaped up in glad surprise.  Weed seeds sprouted too and raced ahead of the alfalfa.  "It'll be a wonderful cutting this time," I told Hiromi.

"Except for the weeds," he said.

"No problem," I asserted confidently.  "Cows love Amaranth.  It'll just get baled up right along with the alfalfa and help feed the cows."

But that's not what happened.  A few days before the swather returned to wrestle the growth into plump windrows, a Coop sprayer swept up and down and across the field, anointing everything with a fog of something.  Hiromi was outside and got a little worried, so he called the farm's headquarters.  "It's Roundup," he was told, and, as expected, that tall Amaranth bowed its head and died.

"I can't figure it out," I fretted.  "It's obviously Roundup-ready alfalfa, since it didn't die when it was sprayed, but if it's GMO alfalfa, they can't harvest a seed crop because of infringing on patent laws.  I can't think of any other reason for spraying that field now, so near to when it's tall enough to cut."  But cut it they did, dead Amaranth and all.

I inquired surreptitiously of one of my students about the plan for the alfalfa.  He sought some inside information and soon reported back.  The spraying had caused accidental death.  It had been ordered long before, but the steady rains had made it impossible to do the job because the field was muddy.  When it finally dried off enough to do the spraying, the field was also dry enough to cut the alfalfa, so both happened in rapid succession--only the spraying order would have been canceled if the farmer had thought soon enough of how this timing was working out all wrong.  Too bad.  Wasted money and effort.  I was already skeptical of the GMO alfalfa.  Even more so with its spray load.  The green field looked a trifle jaded now.

Nevertheless, we hovered anxiously over that field while the hay dried ever-so-slowly because the windrows were so incredibly heavy.  "Was that you that pulled into the field this morning?" I asked Joe at the Labor Day picnic.  It was.  He couldn't bale yet though because it still wasn't dry enough.

The next morning, however, many tight, fat, side-perched green-jellyroll rounds of hay rested serenely on the smooth green carpet, dark green everywhere except for the pale green lines where the windrows had bleached the growth underneath. Before Hiromi got up, I went to the patio and  counted all the bales I could see from there, and, by extrapolating from my count, calculated how many there might be in the whole field.  Later, Hiromi one-upped me and actually walked around the edge of our property till he could see the whole field and get a count of all the bales.  Seventy-five"," he announced at breakfast.  Getting that hay to this point had been a heavy responsibility, but we felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment for having done so.

Before long someone showed up with a tractor and began to pluck the bales off the field and line them up along our east property line.  I went off to school and Hiromi went off to work in town, and when we got home, lo, a tidy row of bales edged almost all of our east property line.  The jellyroll had been reassembled, and, lined up like that, those bales formed a formidable wall.  I sat on my patio and stared and was not the slightest bit amused.  I had rejoiced over that hay, but now it was cutting me off from the expansive view I exulted in every time I looked out from my kitchen window or my patio doors.  The alfalfa beyond the wall would have to grow without my oversight.  That much was certain.

Tristan couldn't even see the trains now when he heard them at our house and ran to the patio doors to look.  They would be visible only a car or two at a time when they crossed near the end of the driveway.  If I had wanted a six-foot tall fence, I could have found a way to get one without this.  Or maybe not.  I could never afford it.  And this hay fence will probably stay for a long time, till the hay price is high during the winter.  Then, if I was lucky, I'd get my view back.

What to do?  Pout? Protest? Plead?  Pray?  I didn't have any trouble remembering to pray, silently of course, when I was on the patio.  Those bales were in my face.  I did all the other things too, mostly silently.  Then, about a week ago, I came home from school, and the hay was gone.  GONE.  Disappeared without a trace.  Such relief!  Should I call up the farmer and thank him?

No.  That would never do.  If I did that, he'd know for sure how peeved I'd been earlier.  I did really like the farmer and his family, and didn't want to make them feel bad.  So I limited my audible thanks to Hiromi's hearing only.  And I thanked God silently.

A day later I arrived home from school, stunned and wiping tears.  The farmer's daughter had been killed in an accident.  I'd take those bales back in a heartbeat and they could stay till March--if it could bring her back.  It was a pathetic short-lived bargaining effort.

Seventy-five bales along the property line.   Such a nothing.  


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ponderous Subjects

Every Friday at our school, we spend the final 30  minutes of school on an activity that is a departure from normal studies.  This past Friday, our principal, Wesley S. talked to the students about death.  It was not a macabre or dark--or Pollyannaish--lecture, but very informative and helpful.  As you know if you've been following recent events in our community, the death of Anja Miller (18) on Monday has affected us all deeply.

When I talked to him about it later, Wesley said he thinks Ervin Hershberger was the one whose teaching put things together in his mind regarding a historical perspective of death.  I realize that there is some controversy about some of these things, but perhaps seeing a historical picture will provide some insight even for those who have interpretations that vary from the one Ervin H. presented.  I'll convey Wesley's teaching from notes I took while he talked, and from reading some of the relevant Bible passages myself since then, and checking on some details.

Before he got into the historical talk, Wesley recommended the poetry of Emily Dickinson and that of Alfred Lloyd Tennyson.  He also recommended two books:  Sweeping Up the Heart by Paul W. Nisly, and A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken.  I can personally recommend all of those sources also.  It's been a long time since I read the books, and some of the poetry, but I know they're good.  Paul Nisly is a former member of our church and still visits here regularly.  He was Anja's great uncle.  He read the obituary and spoke briefly at her funeral.  Several decades ago, his only daughter was also instantly killed in a traffic accident when she was about 20.  The book was written in the aftermath of her death.

Also, outside of  the historical section, Wesley shared his two favorite Bible verses on death--both from the Psalms.  Psalm 116:5:  "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."  Juxtaposed with this view of death is the Grim Reaper view, which exists because of sin's curse.  Dread accompanies this view, and it was the prevailing Old Testament view of death.  After Jesus' death and resurrection, the sting of it was removed, and death can be viewed now as a wonderful gateway to better things.  Certainly a short life is not correlated with being cursed in any way different from the general curse under which the whole earth groans.

The other favorite verse is from Psalm 23:  "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with  me."  For the believer, death need never be faced alone, because God will be there.  Jesus will welcome saints with a smile on his face.  Memories of horrible accidents or prolonged illness are completely gone in that realm, and only delight in each other's presence remains.

In the time between Adam and Eve's sin and the death of Christ, the souls of all who died went to Sheol (Hebrew word), also called Hades (Greek word).  The story of the rich man and Lazarus tells us something about this place, namely, that saints and sinners could converse together, and that sinners experienced torment and saints experienced comfort.  Abraham, who had died many centuries earlier, was visible to the rich man also.  No one could cross over from one realm to the other and no one could leave the place by their own choice.

At the death of Jesus, the second chapter in the historical timeline began.  This was a time of great transition because it was then that Jesus "descended . . . into the lower parts of the earth" and "led captivity captive . . . " (Eph. 4)  Also at this time, graves were opened and the souls of many of the saints were temporarily reunited with their bodies.  These living people were seen by many in Jerusalem.  (Matt. 27:50-54).  Not much is told in Scripture about these people, but their presence no doubt spoke loudly to all who witnessed it.

On the cross, Jesus told the criminal crucified with him that "today thou shalt be with me in Paradise."  Paradise was the destination of all those captives who were led by Jesus out of Hades to a new place.  Paradise is still the destination of all saints who die.  Those who came back to life temporarily around the time of Jesus' death went there when they departed once more out of the earthly realm.

The final chapter in this death timeline will unfold when Jesus comes back again.  At that time, the graves will open and all the bodies of the saints will be reunited with their souls in the air.  Then all those saints who are alive  will be gathered up to join them, and all will be taken to heaven.

On dealing with the uncertainty of the duration of our own life, Wesley said, "If God calls you to live today, embrace life."  Furthermore, he talked about his own goals in relation to life and death.  Even if death comes slowly and painfully, he'd like for people to be able to observe and say of him, "That's the way to die."  On the other hand, as long as he lives, he'd like for people to be able to say of him during life, "That's the way to live."

I can't imagine a better way for our students to spend a Friday afternoon than to consider important matters such as life and death, and thanks to Wesley, and compelled by events beyond anyone's control, they had such an opportunity last week.


On a related subject, my dear friend Marian is now beyond any viable medical options for treatment of her cancer.  She is under hospice care.

I am committed to walking with her during the rest of her journey, but I'm not sure what all that will mean--maybe staying away when having extra people around is stressful.  Fortunately, her family and other friends stand ready to stay near and help.