Prairie View

Monday, March 31, 2014

Don't Ask

When was the last time you tried to explain to someone why they shouldn't presume that it's always OK to ask for things?  I've heard the habit defended in this way:  "What does it hurt if you're willing to take 'no' for an answer?"

My attempts to explain this have not always been a resounding success.  For some reason, Pennsylvania Dutch/German words always spring to mind on this topic--maybe because that's the language in which I was instructed in such matters: "Don't grongle (beg)."  "Don't be gnaaksich (whiney)."  I don't say those words though when I'm trying to explain.

I sometimes have resorted to pitiful means:  "Don't embarrass me like that."

"Don't intrude on other people's mind space/work time/possessions with your self-centered requests"  is probably a slightly more thoughtful response, but is still  not an overwhelmingly convincing one.  Still, one dear student had the grace to respond with a sincere apology in the face of such logic.

Did I mention how I hate having to explain this to anyone?  Someone has to do it though, given how toxic a sense of entitlement is to relationships and productive interactions.  

Two days ago, I saw a link on Facebook where someone addressed this matter.  Check out this link for more on the subject.  Where was this guy when I  needed him?

Our School in the News

Here's a link to an article that talks about our school in The Hutchinson News.

During the past few weeks we have had a number of visits from News staff people.  The latest group consisted of four people:  two writers, one photographer, and the copy editor.  Kathy Hanks, who wrote the article above, is the only one who's been present each time.  We thought they were there to help us with our writing project.  We didn't know we were also part of their writing project.  It's all good though.  It was a nice article.

Friday, March 28, 2014


I have only one more big bone to pick in the ongoing Bill Gothard (BG) saga.  This is the "taking up offenses" bone.

In a publication separate from the big red book, BG laid out this philosophy on very flimsy evidence--really non-existent evidence, as far as Bible teaching is concerned.  His teaching went something like this:  God gives grace when people commit offenses against you.  But when people commit offenses against others, and you are also offended by the wrongdoing--well, that's when you're wrong for being offended, and you can be sure that God will not give you grace to deal with it.  It's very important not to take up offenses committed against others.

The record which is now being publicly established reveals that publication of this "insight" coincided with a time when BG was being called to account for some of his wrong actions toward others--particularly young girls who worked with and for him.  Following the teaching effectively shut down many voices that might otherwise have been raised in defense of those who were being violated.

Earlier I did not have the motivation or confidence--or forum perhaps--to say out loud what I was thinking about this.  I thought maybe it was courage, righteousness, and love that prompted people to take up the cause of someone who was being mistreated.  I could not see it as being virtuous to stand by silently while others suffered.

I don't have a well-developed defense for my thoughts--only that I feel comfortable in going back to what made sense to me all along--that part of pleasing God means agreeing with Him about what is grievous and what is inconsequential.  Especially when grievous wrong is being done to another, I'd far rather take the slight risk of overdoing the defense of the wronged person than committing the offense of ignoring the offense.  BG got this wrong, and I do not wish to perpetuate the wrong.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

For Local High School Students and Their Parents

If you're a Kansas high school student attending a private or Christian school, and if you can get to Sterling College on April 11, there will be a treat in store for you.

I got an email recently from Dennis Dutton, a Sterling classmate of mine who is now Director of Admissions.  He was informing me about a C. S. Lewis day on campus on Friday, April  11.  Shortly after 9:00, one of the faculty members, Dr. Watney, who is a C. S. Lewis scholar, will give a lecture on Lewis.  The morning event culminates with a matinee performance of "The Great Divorce," one of Lewis' well-known works.  The matinee begins at 10:00.

Dennis writes this:  "The presentation on Lewis will begin about 9:15 and the show will start around 10:00 am and conclude well before noon."

To high school students and their teachers, the event is free, although registration is requested by April 7.

That evening and the following evening the theater department will present the full version of the play.  For the general public, admission will be charged for the evening performances.

Dr. Watney's composition class was one of the ones I visited when I was on campus for a half day in February.  He is a native of South Africa, and speaks the part.  I believe his lecture will be worthwhile.

The C. S. Lewis Day is one of several arts events Sterling presents to the community each year.  I hope many of my "friends and relations" will be able to attend.  I'll be glad to serve as a contact person if you have questions.

Mileage/time trivia from the internet:

From Pilgrim High to Sterling College:  27.2 miles/34 minutes

From our house to Sterling College:  21.1 miles/29 minutes

From our house to the Sports Arena, it's only about four miles closer and takes four minutes less travel time than to Sterling College.  If you live four miles north of us, there will likely be no difference.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Headcoverings and Hairscaping

If you're a headcovering female of the Mennonite sort, and if you find the headcovering practice burdensome or loathsome, or even if you're just in search of vanity--I mean variety, I have some suggestions for you.

1.  Minimize.  Limit the headcovering's opacity, shrink its size, and take care that it covers a minimal area of real estate.

2.  Play peekaboo.  Locate the hair bun very low in the aft position, and make sure it peeks out underneath the headcovering.

3.  Experiment with the fore.  In the vast exposed area here, novel hair parting, hair twists, and curving and twining swoops and braids all hold promise.  This practice is to be commended for its economy;  no hardscaping--I mean hardware--is needed.  A dangling hank of hair on either side of the face will frame an intricate creation nicely.  In brief, make your hair do something interesting while it's hanging out at the fore.

4.  Add ornamentation.  A sequined bobby pin.  A slender plastic hair hoop.  A wide, colorful headband or a dainty lacey one.  So many possibilities.

5.  Use sparkly fabric.  Plain fabric wouldn't look right on a sculpted, ornamented, selectively revealed silky-textured "landscape."  So, make it all look better by racheting up the sparkle factor in the headcovering itself.

6.  Pray about it.  Stand by yourself, thanking the Lord that you are not as women of the world who are proud, vain, and haughty.  Stay strong in the face of pressure to the contrary, and maintain your modest, humble, simplicity-loving demeanor.  You know, after all, what not everyone knows:  what's in the heart is what counts.  Hairscaping doesn't tell you anything.    

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Garden-Variety and Liberia-Style Crises

Blogging has taken a back seat to other matters, of late.  I was sick last weekend.  For about a half week before then I was sliding toward being sick and for about a half week after that I was climbing out of it.  Now I'm all better.

All of the local Iwashige households had a sick mom last week.  Only in this household did the mom not have to also keep caring for little ones.  Poor mothers of infants and toddlers.  No mom nearby, and the mom-in-law (me) no help at all.  


The temperature went down to 21 degrees last night.  At the very end of the day I hauled out all the "garden fabrics" I had stashed in a big wooden box in the shop, and set about covering up the lettuce plants we had set out last week.  It was very windy, so everything had to be weighted down.  I carried bricks and blocks of wood and used anything I could find to weigh down the corners of the old sheets, blankets, curtains, etc. that made up the stash.  

For the first time this spring, I felt angry at the weather.   This usually happens only a few times a year.  My thoughts go something like this:  Can't you see we're just trying to survive over here?  We've already worked hard to get this crop out, and we've tried to take proper precautions.  Now you're trying to destroy it.  Could the wind at least die down so the covers would have a chance of staying in place?  Could these cold tolerant crops we put out at least be spared the mid-twenties-and-lower temperatures?  Enough already.  Show some mercy.  

In the end I usually abandon my plants and possessions into the Lord's care, and put the sorry mess out of  my mind as best I can, which would be a sensible thing to do before the anger kicks in.  

Hiromi checked on the plants this afternoon and reports that they look OK.  Just to stay safe and save ourselves another hassle like we had last night, we're leaving those covers in place through tomorrow night, when 23 degrees is predicted. 

Jason French at Stutzmans had told me that if it goes down to 25, you'd probably better throw a sheet over your plants.   


Jacob and Ida's wedding reception yesterday was at the 4H Encampment building at the state fairgrounds.  We have often been there for the annual picnic that TSW hosted for their employees, but this was the first time for attending a wedding reception there.  I'm not sure if the kitchen is much more than a catering kitchen, but the gathering place is certainly big enough for a wedding-sized crowd.


I saw on Facebook that, among our many guests at church this morning was a hiker who is walking across the US.  He slept outside the church last night and joined us for the service this morning.  The Yutzy clan invited him to stay afterward and share their family dinner.  He took a picture of those most nearly his own age--more than 20 of them--and posted the picture, along with a bit of the information here.  


After church, Judy regaled us with tales of her and Lowell's recent trip to Liberia.  They planned the trip after Lowell was invited to speak several times at a conference, where a number of different speakers were to address a Christian gathering of up to 3,000 people.  Judy was to speak to the ladies several times.  

The reality was almost comically different.  The most that ever gathered was about 200 people--just the right size group, actually.  Also, the speaking schedule was just a nice thought.  In reality, hardly anyone spoke except Lowell.  Even when he showed up expecting to listen to whoever was on the schedule, he was told after he arrived that he would be doing the speaking.  When he protested that "David" was going to speak, "David" informed him that he was not prepared, and Lowell should just go ahead.  Never mind that Lowell wasn't prepared either.  He got up though and preached.

One evidence that the audience really "heard" what was preached was that people asked Lowell repeatedly how he knew what they needed.  He replied that he didn't.  He was just trying to preach what the Lord showed him to say.

More than has ever happened in an international setting, the music proved to be a significant interference with Lowell's preaching.  While he and Judy both have quite a bit of openness to different ways of worshiping, this time, after the first meeting, Lowell felt spiritually attacked while the tribal/pentecostal drumming-singing-dancing was underway, and for hours afterward.  After praying for a long time, he asked to meet with the conference leaders before the next day's service and told them how he was affected and asked to be excused from being present during any such future activities.  He also made it clear that he is not trying to tell them how to worship.  They were very apologetic and understanding, and things went well from then on.  Except for the scorpion incident.

One night, in their hotel room, Lowell and Judy were unwinding from the busy day, and trying to get sleepy enough to go to bed when, under the door, crept the biggest black scorpion either of them had ever seen--probably about eight inches long.  Lowell sprang into action and, with some effort, killed it under his shoe.  To Judy, it felt like an attack from Satan, and she had a very hard time going to sleep afterward.  She thought of a Scripture in Revelation that describes Satan's hosts as having tails like scorpions, capable of stinging that torments for five months.  Later, she remembered how the incident showed God's care for them.  It happened before they turned off the lights, and while Lowell was there to deal with it.  All was well under God's protecting hand.  
When they showed a picture of the scorpion to their Liberian hosts, they identified it as "The Devil."  They went on to say that in Monrovia, where they were at the time, they never see scorpions of this size, and only rarely in the bush elsewhere in the country.  Some Monrovians have never seen a scorpion of any size. 

Another interesting encounter was with a 22-year-old lady.  When they first saw her, she seemed scary.   When she sang at the front, she seemed almost beside herself.  She dressed less modestly than most of the women there, and wore no head covering, unlike most of the other women.  

At one point, however, she sought out Lowell and Judy, and wanted to talk.  At first she said she was moved by what she heard about forgiveness, and she reported that she had cried.  Then Judy began to ask her questions, in an effort to get to know her, and to learn what she was seeking.  

The story of her life explained a lot of things.  At the age of eight, she, along with her three younger siblings and her mother, had to watch while her father was lined up with the other village men and they were shot, one by one.  It was wartime in Liberia.  Her mother struggled intensely in the following year, and then died.  The nine-year-old became the family's provider, and they barely survived.   When she sang in churches, sometimes people would give her a "blessing" (money), and the more energetically she sang, the more money they would give.  She also made a little money when other people paid her to braid their hair.

Lowell and Judy prayed with and for her, and she kept coming back to the meetings.  Later, she sang again, powerfully, but calmly and sincerely.  She began to wear a head covering. Near the end of the meetings, she spoke again to Judy and described what was in her heart--freedom, and peace, and joy.  She said that she had determined one night, in bed, that she could "do this," live with hope, if Jesus would stay with her and help her.  She sang, out loud apparently, during the night in a crowed bunk room, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." 


Hearing about Lowell and Judy's experience with the music stirred up my thinking again on music, and how "good" and "bad" music are properly defined.  

I spend a lot of time around teenagers, and sometimes I wonder if they have any standards by which to evaluate music.  They are very capable of forming opinions, but I've learned a long time ago that opinions are a dime a dozen, and I'd hardly pay even that for another person's music opinions, without some evidence that an objective standard is being referenced.  

In the youth crowd I'm familiar with, I never hear anyone raising questions about rock music.  Some of their favorite groups are rock musicians.  This is a category of music that was much vilified when I was growing up.  Even in the public high school I attended, a major flap between students and administration occurred when a group the students chose for an appearance at the senior prom was unacceptable to the administration because of the kind of music they played.  I can't prove this, but I'm guessing that what was forbidden in our public high school is exactly the kind of  music a lot of young people I know would drive four hours to listen to, live.  

Bill Gothard led a frontal assault on rock music.  Given his utter lack of credibility on many matters, I won't be trotting out his teaching on this matter.  

I'm not sure that rock  music is as bad as Bill Gothard says it is.  Neither am I sure that it's as wonderful as young people say it is.  I'm not even sure that it's as neutral as most people seem to think it is.  What I am quite sure of is that somewhere there's a line that divides good music from bad, but even that is a matter I'm not sure I could find agreement on among the young people I know.   

As demonstrated in Lowell's experience, it's not only a matter of whether or not the lyrics are acceptable.  The music itself, and the way it's presented is part of what determines whether music results in worship of God, or whether it results in a "thrill" of another kind.  

Where do the smoke and light shows fit in?  They're not music and not lyrics, but, given the huge draw to live performances, apparently they provide something the audience is in search of.  Is worship enhanced by these theatrics?  

I'm not sure that differences in what people like boils down to liking the kind of music people grew up with, although I certainly recognize that this has some effect, perhaps even a major effect. What I don't "buy" is that it doesn't really matter much what you like.  

Traditional/tribal music was much in evidence in Liberia in the music that proved to be very spiritually troubling, but part of it sounded much like the music in Pentecostal churches in the US.  In the young woman who sang throughout the gathering, her music "style" changed after she experienced forgiveness and decided to follow Jesus.  That seems revealing to me.  What she grew up with didn't seem "right" anymore after the peace of God reigned in her heart.  

Does anyone wish to weigh in on the matter of good/bad music?  Are there good books on the subject that others should know about?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Wichita Death with Local Connections

Some among my readers may remember the former Grace Nisly who grew up in our church.  Her only daughter, Victoria (about 27), died last night in a car accident in Wichita.

Grace is the sister of Sam, Arthur, Harold, Marvin, and others.

Victoria is survived by a daughter (about 5).

Marvin's son Jacob plans to get married next weekend.  A funeral and a wedding so close together will present extra challenges, and prayers would be appreciated.

Making a Point

Our local newspaper has most of the front page taken up with information on a contest which carries a one billion dollar reward for anyone who gets all the details right.  Specifically, to win the prize, a person must correctly choose the winners of all the college basketball games in the NCAA tournament, which happens this week.  It involves 64 teams.  As you already know if you've been reading this blog, my knowledge of and interest in this matter hovers very nearly around zero.

Over supper this evening I told Hiromi I thought it might be fun to enter the contest.  If I won anything at all  (very highly unlikely, of course) it would be a great way of poking a little fun at anyone who takes such matters seriously.  At that point, Hiromi told me a little story which I had completely forgotten, if I ever heard it.

At his workplace one year, someone organized a "name-the-winner" contest for a major sporting event.  Hiromi can't even recall which sport it was.  Without knowing anything about the odds or the teams, to join the fun, Hiromi paid his $2.00 and made his guess.  He was the winner of the $100.00 prize.  The next year, no one allowed Hiromi to enter the contest.

If anyone wins the one billion dollar prize, they will have done so against these odds:  one chance in 9,223,372,036,854,780,000.  This is about one in 9.2 quintillion.

On second thought, I think I'll just leave the matter of making a point with Hiromi.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Right Word for a Wrong Thing

I'm taking a small break from some of the heavier stuff on the Bill Gothard matter, and will write about another idea that's been growing on me for some time.  Only in the past few days has exactly the right word come to mind for what's been eliciting my deep sighs and rolling of the eyes:  Hedonism.

I think I'll ask some of my students some day soon if they know what that means.  At a later time I may have the courage to ask the same question of some people older than my students.  If I really get brave, I might even point out specific behaviors and ask individuals to tell  me how "that" is not hedonistic behavior.

Several weeks ago Mark N. had a topic in church on entertainment (I think that was part of the title).   We had a bit of trouble getting together on a good definition for the word, and it seemed like it was getting mixed up with pleasure at times.  We heard some good thoughts, and I kept on thinking about the subject long after the discussion was over.

In a post after the Super Bowl, I think I was trying to get at the core of what felt wrong to me about some people's unapologetic (and apparently relatively evaluation-free) participation in this sports worship event.

It is not entertainment that is always wrong; it is certainly not pleasure that is always wrong.  It is hedonism that is always wrong.  I think I see some people quite willing to defend even that, probably because they do not recognize it as hedonism.

In a long list of evils that will be present in the last days, 2 Timothy 3:4 has this phrase:  . . . . lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God . . .   What Paul cites as evil coincides almost perfectly with the definition of hedonism from the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1.  the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life
2.  a way of life based on or suggesting the principles of hedonism

Having just read some of the stories of IBLP survivors, I see a common thread with some of what I believe I've witnessed:  People who were at one time fearful of offending their own tortured (and perhaps misinformed) consciences now experience such "freedom" that no reference point remains for when one crosses a line from living in Christian freedom to being sucked into bondage.  Being driven to experience pleasure is still "being driven," and that is bondage.

Being willing to make greater and greater sacrifices in search of a thrill should serve as a warning.   Continually indulging hedonistic tendencies eventually separates a person from God.  What could be more tragic than that?  Repentance and a new direction are possibilities as long as life remains.

Careful evaluation of where our pursuit of pleasure ranks in relation to our pursuit of God is timely, right now, for all of us.


Sunday, March 09, 2014

What's Wrong with Bill and Me

One of my friends told me once, “You know what’s wrong with you?  You’re not a man.  That’s what.”

That comment was actually reassuring, as it was meant to be, given the context.   The conversation earlier had been affirming of some things I had said on my blog.  I was told that it made people think, and they were talking about it among themselves, even if they weren’t writing comments or talking to me.  Tacitly, however, there was acknowledgment that it was not universally appreciated or even regarded as being worth paying attention to.  That’s when the above comment entered the picture.  The reassuring part, also tacitly acknowledged, was that I need not have felt that the ideas were bad, because even good ideas don’t always have a chance if you have a gender strike against you.

For the most part, I have been surrounded by people who have not made me feel “less than” for my gender.  Most of the men closest to me have been wonderful.  I grew up with mostly boys in my class at school.  They’ve always felt like friends.  My father and my husband, and now my grown sons don’t always agree with me, but they’ve never made me feel that I should routinely put my inferior ideas aside for their superior ones.  Ditto for the men I’ve worked most closely with at school.  I think I’ve said some of these things before on this blog, and I’m repeating them here because of their relevance for what I want to address here: Bill Gothard’s teaching on the Chain of Command.

Have I ever suffered personally from Bill Gothard’s flawed emphasis on the Chain of Command, which, allegedly, when followed scrupulously, will result in being able to navigate life sheltered under an umbrella of protection?  I think so, but that’s not the main point of my concern.

First, let’s consider whether there actually is a flaw in Bill Gothard’s emphasis.

I do believe that the Bible speaks to the matter of gender roles, and to matters of leading and following.  Bill Gothard (BG–I plead fatigue rather than disrespect by abbreviating) thinks so too, so where’s the problem?  Stay with me here; this is about to get a little dense.  Some of these thoughts are not original with me, but they’ve become part of my thinking, and I can’t remember where all I found them, so, sorry about not providing more references that you can check out for yourself.

Bill Gothard seems to see the Chain of Command as a top-down structure.  Think of the word “command” in the term.  This is how it works in BG’s teaching (oversimplified perhaps).  “Commands”  are issued, and anyone lower on the chain submits to them, if they want protection and blessing.  I’m trying not to read anything negative in the “chain” part of the term, so I’ll leave that one alone.  I believe this top-down emphasis is a problem.

Now picture how different things look when each person seeking to follow God voluntarily submits to God, and then, in an act of humility and service, voluntarily submits to others, including those named as their leaders in Scripture.  The emphasis in Scripture when submission is taught actually sometimes seems quite broadly applicable–not narrowly so, as in a straight line from the top down.

I’d like to scrap the BG umbrella image in favor of a different umbrella image.  In my mind, God is the “knob” in the center top of the umbrella.  All God’s children are the spines of the umbrella, fastened to the center knob, and, when spread out for action, held by the fabric of brotherhood in useful tension and support in relation to all other  “spines,” but especially in relation to God, at the center.   In a more targeted submission, any “spine” can send a submission “signal,”  through the knob, to any other spine.  By this route, every act of submission becomes an offering to God first, and then to the person He transmits the signal to.  To spare us endless confusion about what is happening, God gives us some prior information about how He chooses to organize things, and we can learn something about the pattern of His transmission work.

 I’m afraid my umbrella image is a lot less tidy than BG’s.  I still like it better than his–mainly because it shows that I can completely rest in my position in Christ.  If adversity befalls me, I will look immediately to Christ, in Whom I am securely anchored.  I will not assume immediately that I have stepped out from under the umbrella of protection, and that the adversity is somehow my fault.  Neither will I immediately assume that those over me have failed to protect me.  Adversity will first be a matter to consider between me and God, not the triggering of  a review of the steps in a Big Red Book that tell me exactly how to stay under the umbrella of protection, and what blessings or hazards accompany staying there or leaving there.  Those steps focus inordinately on myself and other humans.  Instead, what I need to focus on are God’s purposes and ways.

Sadly, the Chain of Command teaching can easily serve the purposes of someone who desires to control others for selfish purposes, or to perpetrate abuse.

I recall  reading  the story of Abigail in the Bible more than 25 years ago, and having been deeply impressed by her discernment, flexibility, and resourcefulness in incredibly trying circumstances because of a husband who behaved reprehensibly.  I spoke of it once when I had devotions at the sewing.  Later, when we studied that passage in Sunday school, I spoke admiringly again about Abigail.  Right on the heels of that, someone said publicly, to some of the same audience I had spoken to, that Abigail made a beautiful appeal, but she made it to the wrong person. I felt rebuked for having spoken so favorably of her when her response was presented as being obviously flawed.  Yet, when I checked out the Biblical record more carefully, I searched in vain for Bible commentary on that story that suggested that Abigail was in error.

I don’t believe that the final test of any teaching should be pragmatic–that is, whether or not it “works,” but even by those standards, in Abigail’s case, what she did appears to have “worked.”  I believe that it’s likely that an unwholesome loyalty to Bill Gothard’s teaching on Chain of Command can taint our understanding of stories like Abigail’s, and result in unwholesome applications in our own practice.

Here’s a story that makes me smile, remembering.  Sanford Yoder, Costa Rica, who is my sister-in-law Judy’s father, when he preached in our church a long time ago, said something that also countered Bill Gothard’s teaching.  I can’t recall the precise details, but, in BG’s  view, the husband/father should be in charge of the family finances.  Sanford told us he had heard that, and he really didn’t agree.  He thought it made more sense for whichever spouse was the better record keeper/manager to be in control of the finances.   This insertion of common sense into the discussion is exactly what was needed.

I recall hearing another time about a conversation within a small church group when one woman campaigned hard for having the men be directly responsible for all the purchases made with church funds.  She made it clear that she considered it a chain-of-command matter (although I’m not sure that term was used), and it could be done properly only if the men were responsible.  After a stalemate became apparent, one man quietly said that he was not nearly as concerned about who did the actual purchasing as he was about the direction the conversation was taking.  Again, a common-sense expression restored order in a situation that was lurching toward nonsense.

Random Observations

1.  As I understand it, Bill Gothard teaches that when someone in authority acts in a wrong or unreasonable manner, the correct response from those under authority is to still cooperate with the person in authority or, if that is impossible, to make an appeal.  For the most part, this makes sense to me.  I don’t believe, however, that all are obligated to stay frozen in place under such mishandled authority.  An appeal for help from others may be necessary.  In fact, going directly to God about the matter is probably the first thing that should happen.

2.  The “Umbrella” and “Chain of Command” teaching do grievous harm when they are used to blame the victim when abuse or sin occurs.  We all know this instinctively.  Yet it seems that it’s not always easy to recognize how it applies.  

I once heard an indignant comment about what seemed to be an assumption that when one spouse strays, the faithful spouse also needs to be willing to receive counseling.   I had never given the matter much thought, and mostly just listened.  The person speaking  went on to cite a case in which she knew the details very well, and the wrongdoing was clearly one-sided.  In that case, the problems were resolved without others making the faithful spouse feel that she caused the problems.  Caveat: I don’t have any trouble seeing that couples or family counseling may often be helpful.  I hope, however, that if a person has already suffered because of another’s wrongdoing, that person is not made to endure further suffering because of an unjust assignment of blame.

In what is coming to light in IBLP, it’s obvious to me that the Chain of Command teaching was, in fact, used far too often to protect the abuser and to silence the abused.

This document has been knocking around on my computer for most of a week now, and I'm ready to stop looking at it.  When I click on that "publish" button, however, I'll be sending it into other people's mind space, and I pray it accomplishes God's purposes there.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Information Gone Wrong

Deep breath.  Final quick prayer.  Ready.

Ready?  The subject is gossip.

I have always known that gossip is wrong.  I have associated it with bad attitudes and wrong motivations and generally wanted none of it.  I have not very often been the victim of gossip that I can recall.  I'm sure I have also been guilty of gossip, but I have a hard time recalling that too.  I'm  not sure that I've very often even heard gossip.  A bad memory is a mixed blessing, but maybe I've simply lived mostly among people who aren't that "into" gossiping, or maybe I'm clueless and insensitive to its presence.  (Is it a bad sign when too many sentences start with "I?")  I think it means the writer is going too fast to refine and vary the sentence structure nicely.  If you really wanted to, you could probably wring a bit of gossip out of the above--narcissistic, self-absorbed, arrogant--doesn't this writing style suggest these?  I digress.

One particular definition of gossip has reached me a number of times over many years, and I've usually felt a bit of distaste for it.  I think I felt rebuked by it, but also felt that the rebuke was vaguely unjust.  Finally the niggling thoughts could not be silenced without further examination.  On a hunch, I did some checking within the past few days and found out that the troubling definition probably originated with Bill Gothard.  It apparently appeared either in material he authored or in his public speech.  I also see exactly why this particular definition serves anyone well if their intent is to cover up wrongdoing.  Now I have even more distaste for the definition.  Here's a quote from a Christian publication in a column on gossip:

Bill Gothard gives us a more
comprehensive definition in these
words, “Gossip is sharing detrimental
information with someone who is not a part
of the problem or part of the solution”.

In short, I believe Bill Gothard's definition of gossip to be an exaggeration and an unwarranted extrapolation of the true definition of gossip, and of the intent of Scripture in warning against it.   That is certainly not to say that everyone who has ever repeated this definition has had nefarious motives in doing so.  On the contrary, I believe such people have often been themselves models of non-gossiping behavior, and they genuinely wished to protect others from the harmful effects of gossip.  In my experience, the definition has served as a helpful check on motivations.  Yet I wish to reject this definition and still uphold the teaching of Scripture against gossip.

I'll quote below from other writers who see the same things that I see.

At this site, in writing about how the matter of gossip was handled in the Great Commission Movement, which I have no knowledge of, Linda says:

Quote:  The old Bill Gothard definition comes to mind. It was something like "talking about something someone did when you aren't part of the problem or part of the solution."


Someone identified only as EveraStudent replied in these words:


Hi Linda, 

Mostly I agree with your definition of gossip, but I think it is too narrow.  

I would prefer to define gossip as passing along information for which there is no holy reason for it to be passed along except for deriving perverse pleasure.  

In other words, I may not be part of the problem or solution to someone else's situation, but I can still properly discuss a matter because it can be illustrative, instructive, and informative to a third party for them to understand what happened.

There are many instances in Scripture where someone is recorded as having done something "privately" but now all the world can read about it for all history because it was deemed illustrative, instructive, and informative for all humankind (even though no one can do anything about the original situation).  There was no evil intent in bringing it to light, and certainly no one gained a perverse pleasure in doing so.  I doubt that Luke enjoyed telling everyone that Paul and Barnabas had a sharp private argument.


Here's more.  This one is from a site on Sovereign Grace Ministries, also an organization with which I am not familiar.


Something that I’ve noticed, and Theoden and others have pointed out, is that there is a lot of double-speak (where words have either taken on broader-than-normal meanings, or where people make statements that they believe are true but actually aren’t) going on within SG leadership. Let’s look at the example of “gossip”:

“Gossip” is defined (at as, “idle talk or rumor, esp. about the personal or private affairs of others.” But within SGM, this definition has been expanded. I’m sure others could do a better job of summarizing what they’d say is gossip, but it seems to me their definition would be something like this: “Gossip” equals ANY TALK AT ALL about questions, concerns, or problems, unless you are directly engaging in this talk with the people who can answer your questions, concerns, or problems.”

At our SGM church, the pastor pretty recently did a 2-part series on gossip where he relied on the old Bill Gothard definition: “Gossip” is any talk of a problem with anyone who is not part of the solution.”

You’ll note that the original definition of “gossip” includes the word “idle” as a modifier for the word “talk.” “Gossip” by tradition is “idle talk,” NOT “any talk.” There is a big difference. If you are earnestly and honestly seeking to flesh out your thoughts, or seek feedback on an idea, or figure out if there even IS a problem to begin with, it is NOT “idle” (purposeless, pointless, meaningless) talk to discuss a problem with someone else. But of course, it IS “any” talk.

Also, SGM folks seem to have an extremely narrow definition of what they mean by “anyone who is not part of the solution.” By that phrase, they mean “anyone IN AUTHORITY who is not part of the solution.” In other words, unless you are discussing your problem, question, or concern with someone IN AUTHORITY who can fix your problem, you are engaging in gossip.

It’s all very nebulous and very subtle, but these distinctions are hugely important.


My own random thoughts include these:

1.  Anyone who prays about a problem can legitimately be considered part of the solution.  Certainly, gossip can be couched as a prayer request, but refusing to speak of something negative can also preclude the prayerful interest of genuinely caring people.  They're not too likely to pray about something they have no knowledge of.  This speaks against narrowly defining the group that is included in the "part of the solution" category.

2.  Much of the prophetic message in Scripture came from people who were not involved in the "problem" and who were not recognized in their time as being part of the solution.  Yet their truth telling was an act of faithfulness to God, and, over time, their message was vindicated.

3.  People's minds work differently, and, what looks to one person as preoccupation with gossipy details may simply be another searching mind's way of trying to make sense of what it has been exposed to.  This search may be taking place with underlying compassion, and deep commitment to a redemptive response.

4.  Preoccupation with another's gossip is not to be encouraged.  Obviously it can be challenged if it occurs, but majoring in gossip matters--warning against it excessively, developing "radar" for detecting it in others, etc. are probably misplaced emphases.  Our main concern should be to seek to correct any of our own heart matters that might prompt us to engage in gossip.  Then we can trust the Lord to remind us if we stray into "gossip" territory with our speech.

Can you guess how many times I've asked myself over the past number of days if saying anything about Bill Gothard's record is warranted?  Can you guess how many times I've wondered if doing so constitutes gossip?  How about how many times I've quoted to  myself the "definition" of gossip?  I don't even know the answers to these questions, but I had a moment of truth when I realized that many of my agonizing questions harked back to mantras that came from the person whose wrongdoing is now exposed.  I don't owe those mantras a shred of loyalty.

I must guard against gossip, yes--the hurtful, vindictive, destructive, idle kind.  Illustrative, informative, instructive information?  That's probably a different matter.  The Biblical record suggests that it may be information gone right.

Sunday, March 02, 2014


I've studied the evidence and stewed over it and let it simmer, and now I'm speaking about it--the reports coming out of the "Recovering Grace" organization concerning Bill Gothard.  The Recovering Grace website has abundant details, most of which I have no desire to reiterate here.  Suffice it to say that, now that these details have come to light publicly, the board for the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) has placed Mr. Gothard on administrative leave, as reported by World magazine.

I am disappointed, of course, at the revelations, especially the fact that some efforts to resolve the issues 30 years ago were met with resistance, and no resolution was possible, and the problems continued under cover.  I am grieved for those who were wounded, some of whose stories were not believed.  Most personally of all, however, I feel a little betrayed because of some of Gothard's teachings that I tried to believe, even though they didn't sound right to me--because people I trusted believed them and taught them.  I'm still sorting through such things.

Recovering Grace (RG) was established as an organization to combat doctrinal errors in IBLP materials and teaching.  As the title suggests, one of the errors they identified was an inordinate emphasis on formulas and steps, which, when followed, would result in blessing and favor.  God's grace was not much in evidence in the teaching.

Also, Gothard's interpretation and application of Scripture was a problem, according to RG.  Standard methods of Bible study were not followed--things like taking into account the context of Bible passages.  Dubious meanings were assigned to words and passages--meanings that could not be reasonably extracted from the simple text or from deeper study of the text.  What can perhaps most simply be called exaggeration was a major problem, as evidenced by Gothard's teaching legitimate Biblical principles in such a way that his own additions to the Biblical principles carried as much weight as the original principles.

RG began, at first, to speak out only about the doctrinal problems in the teaching.  When they did so, however, individuals who had experienced harassment or abuse while working for the ministry at headquarters or elsewhere also began to speak out.  So RG began to try to address some of these issues also, by making direct contacts with Gothard and his board.  Only after these contacts failed to result in any evidence of repentance did RG begin to publicize these stories.

In the internet age, the dynamic has changed since 30 years ago, when those who had serious reservations did essentially what RG is doing now, without the benefit of easy communication among themselves and with the church at large.  The people involved were trusted teachers and leaders, but their work was not widely known, perhaps partly because they were consciously trying not to destroy a ministry that seemed to be doing some things right.  They wished to see corrections made, not to see the ministry effort abandoned.  Not having things handled more publicly, however, meant that some of the eyes and ears that could have helped spot problems and perhaps helped solve them were never alerted to watch for them, and the needed corrections never materialized.  Now, eyes and ears everywhere are wide open, and the facts aren't going away.

 One of the blessings I'm reflecting on regarding the participation of many Mennonites in the Gothard seminars is that most of the people I know had enough discernment to reject the most extreme and doctrinally unsound interpretations and applications of Gothard's teaching.  What I think usually happened is that people who already were fairly familiar with the principles he taught were perhaps strengthened in their resolve to uphold them in the way they were taught in their brotherhood context.   In other words, they did not typically abandon their previous sensible teaching in favor of Gothard's exaggerated teaching.

I feel affirmed in having sorted through and resolved satisfactorily for myself some of the teachings that didn't seem right to me.  This happened over a period of many years, as I encountered situations that called for applying principles as Gothard specified, or principles and applications as God was teaching me, and as others in my faith tradition had been applying them for many years.  I have usually not spoken about my reservations publicly, although the results have at times probably been apparent publicly.  Hearing about some of the lack of integrity in Gothard's personal life, and his failing to follow his own advice has made me sorry for any time I ever wasted feeling guilty for not following his "rules."

The process of sorting out will probably continue for me for some time.  Even the thought of examining things quickly reveals how thoroughly some of the teachings have been ingrained in me.  I certainly want to retain every part of the teaching that is legitimate, but I do not wish to be shackled by what is not valid.  Identifying these distinctions is what looks daunting.  I'm thinking this:  Me.  Pretty far down on the "chain of command," warned against gossip as defined by Gothard, needing both the umbrella and the hedge of protection, not wanting my life message corrupted by sin and failure, etc.  How can I possibly know what I need to know or say what I need to say and do it right?

And then I think:  Me.  Access to Jesus any time.  Cherished by Him.  Taught by God's Spirit.  Called by God to be faithful.  Grateful for His care.  Sobered by my responsibility.

I'm praying for discernment, and for courage.

Here is a snippet of a Facebook conversation that expresses some things worth passing on:

(Explanation:  This comment is responding to a previous one in which someone reported on having been helped to forgive someone, as a result of teaching he received in a Bill Gothard seminar.  Dwight Gingerich is the writer of the comment below.  He's a Facebook friend whom I have never actually met personally.  I appreciate many of his posts.  Quoted by permission.)

Some things I was thinking in response:
* I'm glad to see you drawing closer to God as you ponder these questions.
* One man's failure can in no way negate the good work that God has done in your life! Your life comes from God, not from any man!
* There remains much good in what Gothard taught. As with all hypocritical teachers (and even those with the purest characters), there is a mixture of truth and error. 
* Despite the presence of some errors and (apparently) many false motivations, God graciously uses the truth to free us. I was reminded of Paul's words in Philippians 1:15-18: "15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice." (ESV)
* When you forgave and received peace, that was ultimately God's work, not mans. The same God is still working in you today! This should give much hope.

I'm also reminded of the awesome influence that leaders have, and the reason why Paul repeatedly said that church leaders must be "above reproach." A certain amount of trust in church leaders is very healthy and even essential. This is true for all believers and even more so for young believers. This means that our churches absolutely must have attitudes, understandings, and procedures in place to evaluate leaders periodically and remove them when they no longer match the qualifications found in 1 Timothy and Titus. To leave leaders who are not "above reproach" in power will do great damage to the church. 

One of Satan's favorite methods is to 1) Find or create situations where a powerful and charismatic leader is not properly held accountable, 2) rejoice as more and more people put more and more trust in that leader, 3) destroy that leader from within by personal sin and/or theological error, and 4) when that leader's sin is exposed, rejoice as his followers are scattered, many rejecting not only his errors but *also the truths about Christ* that he taught. It is much better for a church to regularly test their leaders by God's word, so that church members are regularly reminded that they are trusting ultimately in God and not merely in man. The church in NYC where I was last a member (Followers of Jesus Mennonite Church) has a 5-year evaluation form that they give out every 5 years to all members and attenders, so that they can give honest (and anonymous, if I remember) feedback on their leaders. If I remember correctly, the lead pastor is evaluated more often, at least by his co-leaders (perhaps every 3 years?). In addition, the church leaders are under a regional overseer, who himself has a term that ends (perhaps every 5 years?). That process is not perfect, but it is much better than what I've seen in some other churches and Christian organizations. We must honor our leaders enough to help them walk in truth.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Week's End

We just got word that church is canceled for tomorrow.  I'm relieved.  I love being in church, but tomorrow I would have dreaded getting there.  Tonight the roads are icy and the wind is high and the temperature is low, and it's snowing.  I think this is at least the third Sunday service that has been canceled at our church this winter.  That's unusual.


We're grieving another young person's death, and praying again for a devastated family.

Allyson Yutzy (20), daughter of Ivan and Andrea, was killed in a weather-related accident today.  She grew up in Partridge, partly in the house my sister Linda lives in.  Her family now lives across the road from this house, and from Marvin Mast's Partridge house.  Allyson's grandfather, Andy Yoder, is my dad's first cousin.  Her other grandfather, Bill Yutzy, finished his grade school years living in the house where Willard and Sharon Mast live now.

Andrea is the family member I know best, and I know her to be a person of deep faith, who taught her children well.  All of that certainly matters now, and is cause for reassurance, and yet the pain must be excruciating. I'm praying for them.

Apologies for all those details if none of them mean anything to you.  I presume they'll mean something to former residents of this community who now live elsewhere--and perhaps to a few local folks.    

News reports state that Allyson lost control on the ice and her vehicle was hit by an oncoming vehicle.


My niece, Andrea Welch, gave birth to her and Brandon's first child yesterday, a son named Micah David.  The family lives in the Kansas City area with Andrea's parents close by.  My sister Carol is the grandmother.

I can't tell much from the one well-bundled picture I saw, but this baby would have good reasons to have elevated melanin levels in his skin--not because he's got Asian ancestry, as our grandchildren have, but because of some other novel bloodlines.  


I'm especially glad that Hiromi got home from work safely.  One time earlier this winter he spent the night at Wal-Mart rather than risk driving home.


Friday of the past week was a teacher's work day to wrap up the quarter.  The senior girls had planned a tea, and several of them treated the teachers to some of the goodies they had prepared for their event.


At the fried mush and liverwurst meal at Yoder on Friday night, I had the good fortune to eat with some of Joel's friends from Newton.  Along with LeRoy, these people were in a discussion group together.  They met periodically, and everyone shared something of interest they had learned.  Cookie, one of the group, died within the past year or two, and Joel, of course, lives far away now, so this group has undergone a big change.  Jerry and Sarah and the MFC chaplains were also at "my" table.

The food was delicious.  I really liked the tomato gravy and the liverwurst, and, of course, the fried mush.  I heard rumors that the liverwurst actually  had no liver.  I think that's why I thought it was really good.

I made sure to walk by the fry shack, and saw the impressive row of fryers.  Any communities without a fundraiser like this should bring in Joe Yoder to help them get started.  He made all the fryers.  This is truly an industrial scale operation, and a lot of people work together to make it happen.

The coffee server at our table was Logan K.  He is probably about seven years old, and he did a wonderful job as waiter, as did the many other young people who were helping serve.  Many of them were students from our school.


I planted lots of garden seeds today--indoors, of course.  I hope the seedhouse Hiromi is making will be ready by the time they come up.