Prairie View

Monday, January 27, 2014

Link to Michael Gerson Column

As requested, here's a link to the Michael Gerson column.  I apologize for being too lazy to look it up before I posted yesterday.

Then again, I love to get a comment out of someone--even if it's just a request for a link.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Outside, the northwest wind sounds horrific.  A little over an hour ago, it came roaring in, and the NOAA site says we've had gusts to 49 MPH.  Our high of 60 today will plunge to a predicted low of 12 by morning.  Our prevailing northwesterly flow of late has prevented Gulf moisture from reaching us.  The cold has apparently reached the southern areas, and snow and ice is predicted along the Gulf Coast from Texas to the Florida panhandle.


John Mast (99) died and was buried this past week.  He was the retired Amish bishop of the Pleasantview area, and was widely known in earlier years in Amish church circles.  With his hearing and eyesight both failing in recent years, life had become wearisome in some ways, and he had no wish to reach the "100" milestone.  Dementia was not one of his problems, and his legendary storytelling ability blessed many right throughout his nineties.

John Mast was the grandson of "Dawdy Mosht," (Grandpa Mast) who is the spiritual progenitor of the Amish of this area.  He was also the ancestor of many who live here.


Last Friday evening Pilgrim schools had the annual Parent-Teacher Fellowship gathering.  I enjoyed it more than usual--maybe because I had relatively little responsibility for making it happen.  Uncle Paul spoke, reminiscing about the beginnings of the high school and its ups and downs since then.  He also mentioned his pursuit of a Master's degree in Christian School Administration during the summers between some of the school years at Pilgrim.  Gary Miller, Arlyn Nisly, and Harry Shenk each served as Paul's assistant, in that order.

Paul is planning to retire from teaching at the high school at the end of this year.  This is his second retirement.  The first happened at age 65.  In recent years he has been teaching only one Bible class.

Paul told us when he spoke that he's not so very old--not even 80 yet, although he will be 80 tomorrow.  His birthday was yesterday.  In many ways he's a vigorous 80-year-old.  He has had two hip replacements, and recovered from cancer twice.  He is the retired bishop at Cedar Crest.

Before coming here, Paul had served as principal at a residential school in Poplar Hill, Ontario for a number of years.


Ask someone from the high school food production class if you're local and interested in buying one or more bunches of intermediate day onions.  The bunch will be a mix of white, yellow, and red onions which will grow to  be full-sized bulb onions.  The class is ordering a case of these and each student will pay for four bunches, and sell or somehow pass on whatever they don't wish to plant.  We've also seeded some Candy onions and will be growing them to transplanting size, just for the experience of getting started with growing plants indoors.

I've grown each of the varieties in the mixed bundle and they're been large and tasty.  Unfortunately, none of them are touted as "keeper" onions, but I do find that they usually last longer than the two months they're advertised for.  The varieties are Candy, Super Star (also called Sierra Blanca), and Red Candy.  March 17 is the shipping date.


Early in February is the next delivery date in Hutchinson for chicken breast meat from Zaycon Foods.  I don't know if the shipment is sold out or not.  I did a blog post on this earlier, and, if you're interested in more details, here's the link.


A new printing of the books about Anja Miller is ready for sale.   I have some copies that can be mailed out.  For the locals, the books can be purchased at the Gospel Book Store in the same building as Glenn's Bulk Foods.  Mail order copies can be mailed anywhere in the US for a total of $7.00.  The new printing has a full-color cover, and sells for $5.50, without postage.  Tax will be added for the ones purchased at Glenns.

Orders can be sent to me at Miriam Iwashige, 13611 W. Trail West RD, Partridge, KS.  Orders can also reach me at  Calling or mailing an order to the school can also work.  I sent an ad to The Budget, so check the classified ads there if that's your cup of tea.


My sister Linda forwarded to me this information and an excerpt about Shane from a Choice Books Bulletin:

Shane is on the Choice Books LLC Board. I think that means the national board with a rep from each CB region: Pennsylvania, West Coast, Kansas, Midwest, N. Virginia, Gulf States, and Great Lakes. There are two members-at-large, which makes nine members on the board.
In a CB newsletter with snippets about some of the board members, this is what Shane's section says
--had served two (2) years on the CB LLC Board, three (3) years on the CB of Kansas Board, and 1 1/2 yrs as a sales and service rep at the CB Colorado District.
--married to Dorcas for five (5) years; has two (2) sons--Tristan (2) and Carson (4 months).
--works in concrete construction pouring basements under existing houses. Several years ago he and his wife bought a small farm where they are raising and selling hormone and antibiotic free beef, pork, and chicken. Earlier this year they started developing and building a residential rental investment and management business.
--member of Center Amish Mennonite Church and often teaches Sunday School and leads congregational singing.
--is passionate about preserving and building the music of the church as we sing and worship together.
--enjoys singing, snowboarding, traveling, creative marketing, and spending time with his family.

--lives in central Kansas because of WWII. His Japanese aunt married an American soldier who was stationed in Japan. After the war, they moved back to his hometown in Kansas. When Shane's father immigrated from Japan to the US in the 1970's, he moved to Kansas to be with his sister. Shane now enjoys the juxtaposition of being a non-resistant Japanese conservative Anabaptist that traces his roots to the American military occupation of a nation on which America dropped the atomic bomb.

Hiromi pointed out, after he read this, that his brother-in-law was actually stationed in Japan during the Korean War, which almost immediately followed WWII.  The content of the blurb is still accurate in that American soldiers being stationed in Japan was a direct result of the US having defeated Japan and occupying the country for the years following the war.

My father helped found the local Choice Books ministry and served on the board for many years.  My brother Lowell also has been a board member, so Shane is the third generation of my family to serve in this capacity.


Hiromi reads Japan Yahoo News regularly online, and the more he tells me about the reports coming out of North Korea, the more I think their present "Highly Esteemed Leader" sounds like what I remember hearing about Idi Amin of Uganda in my youth.  Stomach-twisting atrocities committed in an effort to solidify their own power.  Children executed because their parents or grandparents are seen as a threat.  Vile threats against their neighbors.  Lord, have mercy!


Yesterday's issue of Time has a feature article about racism in a different form than earlier. It's all laid out in a book by the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld:  The Triple Package:  How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.  

The new racism works like this:  instead of denigrating a particular minority, the virtues of a particular minority are extolled to the point that all other groups appear to be inferior.  Chua is Chinese.  Asians are one of the groups cited in the book as having virtues surpassing ordinary Americans.  Others in this category are east Indians, Lebanese, Iranians, Mormons, Nigerians, Cubans, and Jews (like Rubenfeld).  The three traits they all have in common are a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control.  These traits result in success.   Most other groups lack these traits.

The author of the Time article, "The Superiority Complex," is Indian.   He or she (Suketu Mehta) is not favorably impressed with the Chua-Rubenfeld book, believing that they ignore many of the factors that have allowed these minorities to flourish in American.  Affirmative Action is one of them.  The author also believes that many of the factors holding back African Americans, for example, have affected the group for centuries,  Coming here in chains and living under slavery is a very different entry experience than being granted a visa that allows entrepreneurial ambitions to be launched immediately, if the right connections can be made and the right skills are already in place.


Michael Gerson had another good column in yesterday's paper.  It was about the complexities of Obama's persona.

He says that Obama seems to have the ability to see many sides of an issue almost instantly, and Gerson admires this ability.  It has a downside, however, in that this characteristic makes taking decisive action  extraordinarily difficult.

I "get" Gerson's message.  In much less momentous matters than what Obama faces, and scaled down considerably, no doubt, I operate much as he does.  No one will ever write a column about how this looks in me unless I do it myself, and I won't reveal myself to be a fool by doing so.  It does explain, to me at least, one reason why I find it painful to hear Obama criticized mercilessly.

In my opinion, in this column, Gerson struck exactly the right tone--clear-eyed and sensible, not singing the praises too loudly or singing the blues too mournfully.

In my books, absolute certainty in political leaders can be a very frightening thing, and Gerson shows clearly that Obama is not an "absolute certainty" kind of leader.  It's probably a strange thing to find comfort in this, but it works for me.




Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Voice of Experience

In the past, I have advocated constructing a greenhouse-type structure if an indoor play space for school children must be built.  Today, in an expeditious email exchange with Paul and Dorcas Smucker from Oregon, I heard first hand how a similar structure works for them.  Paul is a Christian school principal.

Here's a record of the exchange:

First, my note to Dorcas, whose email address I already had:


I once saw a "flood" picture taken inside a structure at your school.  It looked like a greenhouse, which I assume was being used as a gym.  I'd like some information about that structure and its use.  I'll try to make it as easy for you to respond as possible. I'm fine if someone else responds, as a result of your forwarding the email, for example.


Can the structure be used for basketball?


Size of the floor area (concrete, I assume)?

Type of overhead structure?  If this were a wood structure, we'd specify whether it was trusses or rafters, and if trusses, what shape?  That's what I'm interested in here.  If you know the name of the type, that's what I'd like.

Height at the tallest point?


Glazing material?

Provisions for heating and ventilation?

Cost of structure (perhaps minus the concrete)?

How satisfactory is this structure for school purposes?


Other comments?

I need some hard data, and didn't know of anyone else who has actually used a greenhouse as a gym.  We have many people who can tell us all about greenhouses (There are about 50 of them across the fence and across the road from the school building we just purchased.), but your input would provide a unique angle.


Miriam Iwashige

Dorcas' Response:

Gotta say, I don't wake up to these questions every morning!  But I don't mind at all.
I don't know that our "Play shelter" was ever seen as a greenhouse before but I see the similarities.
I'll tell you a bit of what I know and then I'll forward this on.
Back in the day, we went back and forth about a gym because with over 40 students and lots of rainy days we needed a place for them to play.  But a gym quickly involves restrooms, a sprinkler system, and much more.  And it quickly becomes a possible reception hall which necessitates a kitchen.
I don't remember where we got the idea for the current structure, but it's worked well.  It has a curved metal framework with a special canvas over it, so it looks like a huge covered wagon.
Yes, they can play basketball in it, or two volleyball games at once.
There are no restrooms, heating, A/C, drinking fountains, etc.  It's just a shelter.
But what it does, it does well.
And with that I will sign off and let Paul take over.

Next, Paul's response:


I will try to answer your questions.
The basic structure is metal curved trusses that are covered by heavy tarp material which is winched tightly over the trusses.  The entire roof and walls which is actually all part of a curved roof is the tarp material.  There are several different companies that sell a variety of sizes of these structures to farmers.  (Google "tarp buildings" to find out what is available) It is far cheaper to build than a standard building.  The size of ours is 66x100.  It has a full sized basketball court.  It is set up for a volleyball court going the same way as the basketball court and then you can change the nets and have two different volleyball courts side by side going the other way.

The floor is concrete and and the long sides have 3 ft high concrete walls which the metal trusses are attached to.  As I recall the building was in the $35,000 range and the excavation/preparation/concrete/doors/electrical were an additional $30,000.

The height at the tallest point is around 25 feet and the one we have is easily high enough for basketball and volleyball.

We put lighting in the structure, but do not use it during the day because enough light comes through the tarp.  It is not heated. There is no way to insulate it because the only barrier to the outside temperature is the tarp.  I don't know if you can get an insulated tarp.  In our climate we may decide to heat it some time, but we don't get nearly as cold as the midwest.

It has worked very well for us.  It works like an unheated gym, but was not nearly as expensive and gives a large area to play out of the rain.


Dorcas also attached two pictures, which I will post as soon as I figure out how to do so.

My comment:

With a more translucent cover than the Oregon school has,  I'm confident that in Kansas solar heating would make this a comfortable place to play during the colder months of the school year, unless, of course, the day happened not to be one of the 65 out of every hundred sunny days that make up our average weather.  A heater like the one presently used in our shop building at school could warm up the space on the few cloudy days when it might be needed.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Course Correction Gone Awry--Part 2

 I have heard, and mostly believe what I've heard, about bondage that can affect successive generations when a person chooses to give room to Satan in his loyalties and commitments.  I'm not sure exactly how this works, since God obviously shows abundant mercy to all who turn to him.  It's clear to me, as well, that individual choices can free a person from any bondage that might otherwise be present.  I'll leave it to others to sort out the finer points of how this works.  What I want to think about here first is the kind of ancestral influence that feels more like a finger in your back than a vise on your heart.

I'm old enough to know five generations of some families.  True, the youngest generation is still quite young, and the oldest one I've known is long gone.  I know some things about some of these families that spring to mind in a flash when I see yet another family member behaving and/ or choosing exactly as an ancestor, sibling, cousin, aunt, or uncle would have done.  I don't see an individual action or attitude only.  I see the weight of multiple generations in that action or attitude.  Sometimes this way of seeing is a really annoying inconvenience.  I don't like the sense that open-mindedness is being squelched by stereotyping.  I'm sure I often miss many nuanced differences that are present.  Yet, observing such patterns can be instructive.  Specifically, it can prompt me to examine my own tendencies and search through what I know of my family history to see what links are revealed by the search.

Consider an imaginary character from the past whom I'll call Benedict.  His daughter is ill, and Benedict wants to call the local "Braucher"  (German word: pow-wow person) for help.  Benedict's wife, however, will have none of it.  She insists on taking the child to a medical doctor.  The doctor treats the child, but the child dies very soon  (I'm imagining out-of-control, undiagnosed diabetes here).  Benedict is sure his daughter's death is the doctor's fault, (making it his wife's fault is too unthinkable) and, since he is a decisive man, he promptly resolves never again to trust a medical doctor with a health matter.  His wife's wishes are a problem, however, since he cannot hope to live peaceably with her if he continues to consult a Braucher.  He finds a reasonable compromise in learning all he can about products that have healing properties and can be found in nature, and he stocks his medicine cabinet with whatever is reputed to have healing qualities.  Benedict's wife and family very rarely see a doctor, and then only over Benedict's protests.  The children regularly are made to swallow foul-tasting potions from Dad's medicine cabinet, but protest is not allowed.

Benedict's other children grow up with memories of the grief caused by their sister's death.  They also know something of the underlying conflicts between their parents, and they've learned that brauching is associated with dark powers they want no part of.  The bad taste of Dad's medicine still lingers.  How will they deal with their own health challenges?

Picture another imaginary family with a young son who is sick with a respiratory ailment.  Noah is the father and Enos is the son.  Noah and his wife Fannie would like to take Enos to the doctor, but, ringing in their ears is the criticism they heard the last time they took a sick child to the doctor.  "Such foolishness. Always running to the doctor about every little thing," they heard.  So Noah and Fannie put mustard plasters on Enos' chest and stay home, and Enos dies of pneumonia.  Noah and Fannie are sure that if it hadn't been for trying to please their critics, Enos would still be with them.  They resolve to follow their own wishes in the future if a similar situation ever arises.  No one will ever again keep these parents from seeking medical help whenever it's needed.

All sorts of variations on the above themes are possible.  The original parental preference might stay intact for multiple generations--long after the situation that prompted the preference is forgotten--out of fear that deviation will bring condemnation and tragedy.  On the other hand, descendants might choose to boldly depart from their parents' "errors," and blaze a "righteous" trail.  The point is that when any given outcome takes place, especially a tragic one, unless the adults respond with humility, acceptance, moderation, and faith, the children in the family will almost certainly pick up and carry a great deal of baggage into their own future.  That finger in their back will stab purposefully, and make walking straight a hard thing, no matter if the now-grown children choose to consult the braucher, gather and partake of herbs, or turn purposefully and promptly to a medical practitioner.  Only one way of peace is possible, and that way may or may not involve any of the above approaches--except the brauching one.  That one should be resisted.  It will never bring peace.

Missing from each of the above scenarios is reference to a deep and abiding conviction that God is the healer, and, apart from Him, no healing ever occurs.  Because of this exclusivity on God's part, no other particular approach can be assumed to always be the right one.  In the face of illness or injury, the right approach in the beginning is always a consultation with the Heavenly Father--eyes wide open and on the run, if need be.

I've witnessed a number of passionate discussions on the general topic of health and wellness.  Often they have taken the form of pitting traditional medical approaches (think pharmaceutical) against alternative approaches (think natural).   In my circle of acquaintances, lately, much more has been made of a third approach:  supernatural healing.  Individuals and families often seem to bend strongly toward one approach, and disdain all others   In my view, most of the discussions and many of the practices lack articulation or demonstration of any satisfying, cohesive, balanced truth encompassing all of the above.  People who seem to practice a balanced approach aren't talking much in my hearing.  

Rightly or wrongly, I've come to believe that ancestral actions and reactions, and their tendency to affect those who live now comprise one of at least two significant interferences with sensible thinking on the matter.  In its least damaging iterations, the interference takes the form of cautious preferences and a gimlet eye toward non-preferred options.  More damaging approaches add obsession, bombast, finger-wagging, and villain-hunting to the mix.

At one end of the interference spectrum, I think I see spiritual bondage encroaching very far into physical matters.  If spiritual bondage is present, it likely comes from unrepented-of sins--like anger, bitterness, pride, and selfishness.  As these root deeply and grow more entrenched in a single person’s heart, the resulting outlook on life will spread to others in the household, unless they exercise extraordinary vigilance and discernment and turn to God for a changed heart.

Benedict’s children will likely absorb the anger, bitterness, pride, and selfishness Benedict felt after his daughter’s death, especially regarding medical/alternative/superstitious approaches to health matters.  The wrong attitudes can survive, even if the grown children never swallow another natural potion or call on a braucher–or perhaps especially if they do these things.  The point is that the choices Benedict’s descendants make regarding health matters may be based far more on what was in Benedict’s heart than what was in his medicine cabinet, and the descendants likely will never recognize the source of their own biases.

Involvement with the braucher and his associated dark powers  may be recognized as a problem, and deliverance from such influence may be deliberately sought, but the other causes and effects are far more insidious, and far less likely to be recognized.  The necessity of repentance and the need for deliverance from these “quiet sins” have no exciting and imagination-catching powers–as does Spiritual Warfare.  Meanwhile, the finger-in-the-back kind of ancestral prodding can slowly morph, in each generation, into a vise on the heart, and the next generations “inherit” an ever more toxic ancestral soup of biases.  Noah and Fannie’s influence, while more “respectable” on the surface than Benedict’s, may cause just as much damage in transition as Benedict’s.

 Whatever the cause, if the problem is spiritual bondage, God is the answer--not more evidence, more solid science, better doctors, more novel alternatives, more gifted healers, or any position held more firmly than ever.  Humbly acknowledging great need is necessary--not a triumphant pronouncement of having discovered yet another "magic bullet" or having added one more anchor to a ship already aground.

Celebration and Introduction

Here's a picture to introduce you to the newest grandbaby, and get you current on two of our other grandchildren.  The only granddaughter is halfway across the world, and we're missing her and her parents.

Holding the babies is Shane's wife, Dorcas.  She's holding Wyatt LeVan, who was born earlier yesterday, and her own child, Carson.  Shane and Dorcas' older son, Tristan, is standing next to them.  Wyatt is the first child of our son, Grant, and his wife, Clarissa (Clare).

The new baby's middle name is the same as his late great grandfather Smiley's first name.  Clare loved her Grandpa "Lee."

More baby stats and sentiments, as posted on Facebook by Grant:

Pride. Shameless unapologetic pride. Wyatt LeVan Iwashige. 8lbs. 14oz. 20.5" decibels 200.  Mine.

This baby waited five days after his expected arrival to make his appearance, and then didn't waste any time in the last hours.  Do you think he might have a mind of his own?  The decibels notation gives us all a further clue that this might be the case.

My friend Lois Y., who is a veteran of more than 3,000 attended births, was the attending midwife.  The baby was born at 9:24 AM at the Birth Center in Yoder.  I heard the news in the middle of my typing class at school.  I didn't interrupt the class with the news--just quietly wrote the baby's full name on the board, and filled in some details during break time.  Marvelous restraint.  Don't you think so?

All is well in Grant's family, and we're very thankful.

One funny thing I learned last night is that before Shane and Dorcas' last child was born, they had two first names in mind for a boy:  Wyatt and Carson, but they didn't tell anyone.  Also, before Carson was born, Grant and Clarissa had two first names in mind for a boy:  Wyatt and Carson.  When Shane and Dorcas named their baby Carson, Grant and Clarissa breathed a sigh of relief that the other name was still available.  What are the chances . . . .?

I think Shane and Grant may have absorbed some of their father's earlier fascination with all things Western.  Shane's name appealed to Hiromi because of a Western movie by that name.  He chose John for his own middle name, when he became a naturalized citizen and could choose a name change.  "John" is in honor of John Wayne.  I can't claim similar loyalties, but prefer to engage in conflict only over more momentous things.  Kit Carson, Wyatt Earp, Shane in the movie (Alan Ladd), and John Wayne.  Not the first people who come to mind for me as role models.

Clare's parents, Bob and Kathy Prettyman, are planning to arrive here tomorrow, from Washington state.  After one week, Bob plans to return home, and Kathy will stay for one more week.  They've never been in Kansas, and I hope they can meet some of the local people while they're here.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Course Correction Gone Awry

Within the past few days I have heard several stories that fit nicely into something I’ve been mulling over again recently.  I heard the stories in a conversation I was part of yesterday.

Sheila, who has raised eight children and works as a substitute teacher, told about a vegan student she taught.  The student was a faithful reader of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) literature, and did not hesitate to take on her meat-eating classmates for their  “murderous” ways.

Sheila also had heard from someone who stopped eating wheat because she was not willing to be subjected to all the GMOs in wheat.  Sheila pointed out that no publicly released wheat varieties are genetically modified.  Sheila should know.  She has a daughter involved in wheat breeding as part of her university education, and Sheila herself is in a graduate program at our  "aggie" state university.

Sheila told about having taken the vegan student aside for a conversation, and then wrapped up the report on both of the above  conversations by saying “too many people believe everything they read on the internet.”

At this point Pam chimed in with what she read in an internet group she is part of.  Someone warned others in the group not to use canola oil because canola is part of the mustard family, which is where mustard gas comes from.  It is extremely toxic, and has been used for chemical warfare. Pam responded by pointing out, first of all, that mustard gas was named for its yellow color, and has no other connection with mustard.  Then she named other members of the mustard family: radishes, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, etc., many of which are known to be very healthful foods.  Pam has a degree in horticulture.  Even without that, I hope most people could spot the problems with the message in the original warning.  

I certainly agree that too many people believe everything they read on the internet, and that much misinformation is very readily available, and easy to pass on.  In the following posts, however, I’d like to peer behind the outright misinformation, and examine the processes that may result in people accepting misinformation as truth.

My sense is that a lot of foolishness passes for sober truth because people are blind to their own tendencies.  Many people arrive at their position by reacting to something they view as problematic in another  position.  They may, in fact, be identifying the problems accurately, but go astray by veering to extremes in the opposite direction, running roughshod over what is obvious to many thoughtful observers, and what seems necessary to acknowledge if a balanced perspective is the goal.  I'm especially interested in examining two things:

1. How decisions made by one's ancestors can filter down to influence those who live now.

2.  How academic training affects the process.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Karen's Story

Here's a link to a blog post written by my niece, Karen Schrock, about her father, Matthew.  Matthew is my youngest sister Clara's husband.  In the picture, Josh's girlfriend is on the right.  The other young people are Matthew and Clara's children.  Karen is the one wearing glasses.  The family home is in Columbus, Ohio.

Matthew was my student long before he was my brother-in-law.  I've known him at least since he was in seventh grade.

Thanks for praying.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Hymn Writing

I referred in a recent blog post to an email exchange between Mary Keithahn and me.  She is the writer of the words to the song "When We Are Called to Sing Your Praise."  Our exchange now includes several more emails.

From her I've learned about the Hymn Society organization.  I'm sure not everyone is as much in the dark as I am about what this organization does, but I'm curious whether its work is well-known in conservative Mennonite circles.  What do my readers know about this organization?  Who has attended their annual conference?  Who plans to attend this year?  The organization, according to their website, is for the following people:

The Hymn Society is for those who
  • believe that congregational song is an integral component of worship
  • believe that the writing and singing of new texts and tunes needs to be promoted
  • value learning about the origins of the words and music they sing
Mary tells me that this year's conference is in July in Columbus, OH.  I've never written a hymn, and am not a musician by any reasonable definition, but, beyond participating in congregational singing, writing hymn lyrics is the only part of hymnody that seems remotely within my sphere, and I'm half interested in attending the conference.  It helps that I have a sister living in Columbus.

Mary partners with a musician, John Horman.  She says that if I want to write words to hymns and know anyone who writes tunes, I should partner with that person, who will quickly be able to tell me what "sings" and what doesn't.  All I would know to do now is to pay a lot of attention to regular rhythm and rhyme in poetry writing.

Mary also says that she's attended the conference for so many years, and met so many other hymn writers and/or heard them speak or sat under their instruction, that she now feels that she is meeting many friends when she pages through a hymnal.  How awesome is that!

I've never paid much attention to what is offered at Shenandoah Christian Music Camp, although I'm sure they're doing a good work.  Perhaps their work is similar to that of the Hymn Society, although certainly on a smaller scale, and with a Mennonite flavor.

The Hymn Society maintains a collection of all hymns in print.  The online version can be accessed here at

Yesterday, when I was searching for the words to the song that begins with "Death Shall Not Destroy My Comfort," my Google search took me immediately to the website, where I typed those "first-line" words into the search box.  That search took me to a page where I selected those words again from a list (of all songs that contained significant words in the search box, probably).  On the next page I hit pay dirt.  There was the song exactly as I remembered it.  In a lineup of page scans from hymnals in which the song appears, the very first one was from the Church and Sunday School Hymnal, which is the first English hymnal our church used.  It was published by Mennonites, and the words and tune are exactly as I remembered it.  No wonder this version is familiar.

On this page, I also had access to a midi file that played the tune via Windows Media Player.  I saw that the song is used quite infrequently, as revealed in a pie chart, with only a narrow line representing the piece of the hymnary pie devoted to this song.  I also learned that it appeared in hymnals from about 1830 to about 1970.  During that time it was published in 29 hymnals, although great variation is apparent in both wording and music.

No Youtube versions have tunes or words similar to the Church and Sunday School Hymnal version.

When I typed in "When We are Called to Sing Your Praise," in the search box, I found a short biography of Mary Keithahn, and saw also that the tune for the above song is Kingsford.   That tune is listed as a midi file.

From that page I could access a listing of all the songs she wrote.  I recommend especially the following titles, which Mary sent me in an email, along with the story of how she came to write the songs:

Faith is Patience in the Night
When Quiet Peace is Shattered
When We Lose a Child or Parent

She wrote the first after watching her son-in-law wait painfully but patiently for a pancreas/kidney transplant needed to sustain his life.

The second one was written in response to the disturbing painting "The Scream" by Edvard Munch.

Mary wrote the last song after repeatedly reading a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer sent by a friend after Mary was widowed in 1986.

Mary's songwriting obviously comes out of deeply felt personal experience in walking with God through hard times.  No doubt, that gives her writing credibility and substance.  If I ever write hymns, I'd be glad to do so by an easier route, but that probably is not mine to choose.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Angel Convoy

Not surprisingly, given the events of the past year in our community, I've heard more questions and more answers about matters of life and death than usual.  Some of the answers I've heard have generated additional questions in my mind.  I have become a little suspicious of absolute certainty in the face of death--certainty both about the sovereignty of God and the role of Satan in death, and yet, I acknowledge the truth of both matters.  I sometimes feel like scenes from my own life 17-25 years ago are being played back to me now, with slight variations.  Then, I was a mother, trying to explain death to my young children.  Now, I am the child, and my Heavenly Parent is explaining things to me.

"God was right there," I remember saying to Joel primarily, because Shane and Grant were still very young.  "I think Daniel saw Jesus right away, out there on the highway.  He was ready to take Daniel to heaven as soon as he died."  Joel was about six years old, and Daniel, the father of our children's playmates, had died instantly in a traffic accident.

Sometime later, when our children were probably about 8, 10, and 13, I felt compelled one day to make sure my children don't blame God for death.  I wanted them to see God as a loving Father, and not to be angry with God when a person dies.  "Death was Satan's idea," I said, "not God's."  I went on to say again that God is always "right there" when one of his children dies, and He carries that person straight to heaven.  God is more powerful than Satan, and when Satan tries to do something bad, God can actually turn it into something good.  Taking someone to heaven is one of the good things that happens when a child or a Christian dies."  It was only a little later when Shane's dearest friend, Andrew, died instantly in an accident.   I have always believed that God was preparing us for Andrew's death before it happened.

I remember asking Shane within the first few minutes of his hearing of Andrew's death, "Who caused Andrew's death?"  and "What happened as soon as Andrew died?"  Shane was crying brokenheartedly, but he remembered what I had told him, and verbalized the "right" answers.

What is my Heavenly Parent telling me now?  Basically, I think He's saying to me what I've been saying to my children:  Satan causes death, but God is always "right there" and carries his children straight to heaven, and God can make something good out of the bad things Satan does. 

I'm hearing something beyond that, however.  Overwhelmingly, I sense the need for humility.  Much about death remains a mystery.  In a private note to one of my students--who is also the writer's great-niece, Paul W. Nisly (author of Sweeping Up the Heart), said he prefers to concentrate on caring for those who suffer when a death occurs, rather than to presume to explain things in terms of the sovereignty of God, or presumably, any other one-size-fits-all answer.   He believes there is much that we simply cannot know.  When a retired career Mennonite professor and pastor and former Kansas Beachy man says he doesn't understand all these things, I feel OK about saying I don't understand either.  What I still want to learn to do better is to care for those who are hurting.  That is a safe place to concentrate my drive for "more" in this matter of coping with and formulating a response to death.

Wesley, the principal at our school, often speaks of death in kinder terms than I usually hear elsewhere.  He references verses like this:  "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."  Psalm 115:16.  He reads out loud to the students "Go Down Death" by James Weldon Johnson, which ends with

"Weep not--weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus."

In short, Wesley sees much of God's benevolence in death, and is troubled by too much attention being given to Satan when a death occurs.  I see some wisdom in this stance, since it is God we must go on walking with if we are ever to come to terms with grief and tragedy, and a predisposition to seeing God's kindness and mercy can help us turn quickly to our source of healing and help.  Rehearsing the role of Satan in death has no such redemptive potential that I can see.

One of the questions I've been plagued with in recent months is how one ever comes to peace about a death if there is preoccupation with doing things "just so" in faith that a prompt bodily resurrection will take place.  If I had an inclination to ask such a thing of God, I can imagine myself endlessly second-guessing what happened, if a resurrection failed to materialize before my eyes.  Was there a lack of faith?  Was there a glitch in the technique?  Was this person of no further use on earth?  Or--dangerous questions here--is God not as powerful as we've believed him to be, or is Satan more powerful than we've believed him to be?  Here's where the humility needs to kick in, and all hubris needs to be laid aside, before the questions degenerate into silliness or downright heresy and unbelief.  For me, a settledness about the sovereignty of God provides rest--no matter if I can explain every detail of it or not.  Faith in Who God is suffices.  Perhaps expecting death to be as final a separation from earth dwellers as we usually experience it to be is actually a greater blessing than alternative expectations, at least if finding rest is important.

I believe that the physical death of a believer is promptly followed by a spiritual resurrection and is, in some sense I don't claim to fully understand, followed eventually by a physical resurrection.  I do know personally, however, of what can only be termed a prompt physical resurrection.  It happened to my aunt by marriage--Uncle Mahlon's wife, Fannie.  She was stricken several years ago with Guillian-Barre Syndrome, and deteriorated extremely fast before they figured out what the problem was.  After she reached the hospital, and while her physician son was there, her heart stopped beating.  Since there was no "Do not resuscitate" (DNR) order in place, the usual "Code Blue" procedures kicked in and she was revived.  In that interval, however, between "death" and resuscitation, ten or 15 minutes of time elapsed.  She recovered her physical health very slowly, and the doctor in the family often lamented the absence of a DNR, believing that having allowed her to die might have been a kindness.  Eventually, however, she recovered almost completely.  At 81, she appears to be in reasonably good health.

To my knowledge, no one anywhere has used Aunt Fannie's experience as a launching pad for claiming knowledge of revolutionary truths or techniques--old or new--that must now be studied and discussed and embraced.  What seems obvious to me is that God chose to grant Fannie life again, and standard medical procedures provided the vehicle.  That explanation works for me, and I have no reservations about celebrating the goodness of God in the matter, and no particular convictions about whether "technique" mattered in the outcome.

I couple this understanding with something we heard in church last Sunday from several people who spoke publicly--Matthew, on the tragedy when there is a paucity of wonder at Bible truth that is familiar and timely, Oren, on substituting this (a sense of wonder at the familiar) for a preoccupation with what is novel and exciting, and Nathan, in a testimony of healing after a health crisis last year.  He requested anointing, and has subsequently been delivered from fear of further health crises, while enjoying good health during the past year.  The gist of what I'm seeing is that when our "wonder antennae" are functional, what is already present right under our noses is immensely satisfying, and even exciting, and we need not dash about, looking for something better.  I'll let  my nephew, Hans Mast, elaborate on such matters, as he did in a Facebook post several days ago:

"For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things."
--2 Timothy 4:3, NET

I used to think that this verse was talking about liberal heretics. Then the devotional and sermon last Sunday were about it and I read it in the NET and for the first time realized what "itching ears" meant. Now I realize it's talking about me.

As conservative Mennonites, we've at many times been not curious enough about what the Bible says. We have accepted traditions as a sufficient interpreter of Scripture.

I've rejected that view and swung to the opposite extreme, wanting to dig deeply into Scripture and understand it thoroughly. Many others have done the same. I am grateful for that viewpoint and still consider it basically right.

However, I've seen the malady of this verse afflict us. We're so ADD for new, shiny, exciting things. Learning new things can quickly become the point instead of retaining and living truth. We learn more and more about increasingly inane, relatively worthless bits of trivia about the Bible. In fact, in our eagerness to find shiny new theological concepts, we end up manufacturing patterns and connections and ideas that are not present in the Bible. And we actually end up with error. Because truth is no longer our objective, but rather our objective is scratching the discovery itch.

Thanks MatthewAndrea Nisly and Oren Yoder for expressing some of these thoughts and sparking the rest."

I honor teachers and love to learn, but I do not feel a need for "accumulating teachers for [myself]" to satisfy "an insatiable curiosity to hear new things" that "come around" or "go around" while the Word of God stands unchanged and unassailable.  I am content to leave some things in the category of  mystery, and, for the rest, I'm satisfied with what I already know, and with what God will teach me in the process of turning to Him and to my church brothers and sisters with my questions.  In the event of facing my own death, I hope to remember the sentiments in the words of the hymn that has been coursing through my mind all day:

Death shall not destroy my comfort,
Christ shall guide me through the gloom;
Down He'll send some angel convoy
To convey my spirit home.

Soon with angels I'll be marching
With bright glory on my brow;
Who will share my blissful portion,
Who will love my Savior now?