Prairie View

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Your Women Are Not Happy

Last week I read a blog post that one of my friends linked to on Facebook.  It was written by an elderly minister ordained in the Mennonite church, who was so far to the liberal side of the spectrum that he probably teetered on the brink of a steep precipice above a dark and seething morass with very little resemblance to life-changing Christian faith.  He soberly detailed various experiences and "insights" that had led him to espouse a variety of heresies (my word).

One of the minister's defining moments regarding how women should function in society and in the church came when someone outside the church looked in on the minister's congregation and said bluntly, "Your women are not happy."  The minister seemed to think this could be remedied if women were free to adopt leadership positions in society and in the church.

I had a flashback, when I read that succinct observation, of something that happened to me many decades ago, when I was quite young.  My intelligent age-mate and cousin and fellow-church member had just returned from having spent several years abroad, and we were talking--just the two of us, after church one morning--when he said that when he came back he was struck by the fact that the women in church seemed tired or depressed or unhappy.  He wondered why that was the case.  He didn't speculate further that I remember.  I do remember him saying also in that same conversation that he thinks the women's liberation movement has gotten one thing right:  women should receive equal pay for equal work.  It was the 1970s and the movement was in its prime.

I was a little taken aback by my cousin's observation, and I wanted to protest.  I didn't think I felt unhappy and didn't think that in general the women around me felt unhappy either.  I haven't obsessed over the matter, and might never have recalled it if I hadn't read "Your women are not happy" recently.  

What's the reality here?  Several possibilities come to mind:

1.  Observers are imagining unhappiness where unhappiness does not exist.

2.  Women are happy, but their happiness does not register on their faces.

3.  Women are unhappy, and only a few discerning people notice.

4.  Women are out of touch with their own feelings and think they're happy when they're not.

5.  It doesn't matter whether women are happy or not, and thinking about it is foolishness.

6.  It does matter whether women are happy or not, and discovering the reality is important.  

Can you think of possibilities that I missed?

Can you explain or defend any of the above possibilities?  Do you give assent to any, even if you can't explain or defend them?

What I most would like to hear is that women in our church are happy and they have good reason to feel that way.

What I most would like to know though is the truth, and then to be able to embrace that truth and discover God's purposes from that position.

I almost wish I hadn't read "Your women are not happy," but I did, and now that I've put it out there for others to consider thoughtfully and weigh in on, I can go back to preparing lessons for school tomorrow.  Thanks in advance for  your help.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


We've had only one decent snow this winter, of 4-6 inches, maybe, if I'm remembering right.  Mind you, that snow might not have merited a mention if it had fallen on Iowa, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, or Maine--all places that have had some epic snow events this winter.  Nor have we had major icing events.  It's all OK, except we're really needing moisture, and our desperation is making us less choosy than we might be otherwise.  We did have a nice rain about two weeks ago.


The annual liverwurst and fried mush dinner event that serves also as a fundraiser for Mennonite Friendship Communities (MFC) happens next Friday, Feb. 27 at Journey @ Yoder.  


Willis Nisly preached his final sermon today at Arlington.  He has cancer, and a recent exam found that it now has spread throughout most of his body.  He is still working part time, as I understand it, although he has lots of pain.  

His wife, Becky, was hospitalized recently and was dismissed to recover at MFC.   She may have returned home now.  


An Anabaptist Financial seminar was held yesterday at Journey @ Yoder.  I know very little about it except that my dad said that my brother Myron was scheduled to speak, among many others, I presume.  


Our family has put a few new plans in place for Dad since Mom died.  Instead of taking turns to take in the evening meal as we had been doing for some time, we're having Dad eat the evening meal in our homes.  Both Linda and Dad are in one of our homes at noon on Sundays.


This morning at 9:00 I got a phone call asking if I would teach our Sunday School class today.  I did it, with help from the class members.  The regular teacher realized last night that she was coming down with the flu and it didn't suit the appointed substitute.  

We started the Sunday School year with a number of ladies 80 and older, including my mother.  Today only one of them was there, and two younger ladies, Elizabeth H. and Rachel Yutzy were also absent.  I'm afraid Anne got lost on the way to class and ended up in another class, and Lizzie N. probably stayed home because she does not venture out if it snows, Judy M. has not been present for quite some time, ever since her last hospitalization.  Barbara Y. was the only oldster there, along with two of her daughters.  One of them is returning to her work in China tomorrow.  Barbara is in her nineties.  


We cleaned the church yesterday.  After I got home I realized that we had left two ostrich feather dusters there.  This morning they were hanging in the janitor's room.  I still wonder where we left them and who found them.  I know we didn't put them away.  A bit of negligence on our part, I'm sorry to say.


Center now has a permanently installed screen on which projected images can be viewed without moving furniture or setting up a projector in the center aisle.  A projector nestles near a beam in the peak of the ceiling.  


Tristan and Carson spent most of the day here on Saturday, after Shane's family and ours worked together to do church cleaning.  Tristan is quite articulate.  Sample:  "I got a magazine in the mail and now I have two."  When I questioned him a little more, I learned that he was referring to the magazine I had subscribed to as part of his Christmas gift.  It's a children's magazine from National Geographic.  I had wanted to get Big Backyard like our boys used to get, but it's  not available anymore.

Carson says a lot of words, including a very clear "bot-tle."  The boys are three and one, with October and August birthdays, respectively.  


Rachel Y. tells us that she is scheduled to speak to a women's group in Ireland in May.  It sounds like about two weeks worth of classes packed into a long weekend of sessions.  


Brad N., one of the Cedar Crest ministers, preached at Center today.  He has aunts and uncles and cousins in our church.  At Cedar Crest, four of the ministers (Lee N., Donald M., James S., and Brad N.) are either grandsons of the late Ed and Lizzie Nisly or married a grandaughter.  The remaining ministers are over 70 and some are retired.  


Arlen Mast was ordained as bishop at the Arlington church recently.  His grandfather, John Mast, was the local Amish bishop for many years, and his father, Edward Mast, was ordained as bishop when John retired.  His great grandfather Noah Mast was also a minister, and his great great grandfather, Daniel E. Mast, was the Dawdy Mosht of ancestral fame in this community.  He too was a minister, a deacon first, I believe.  I know it takes more than a pedigree like this to fill the office of bishop faithfully, but fortunately Arlen's qualifications go beyond this impressive pedigree.   

One slight oddity in this row of Mast ministers is that Edward Mast actually married into this family, and is not a descendant of Daniel, Noah, and John.  He married John's daughter Wilma and moved here from Ohio where he grew up,  Edward and Wilma are Arlen's parents. 


Hiromi embarked yesterday on a cake-making project, and we have been enjoying the results.  In typical male-brain, science-project style, he prepared by assembling rice powder from three different locations:  Japan, Korea, and Thailand.  He made one small cake with rice powder from each country.

Japan was the first choice, of course, because he was trying to recreate a cake that is a specialty from Kagoshima, the southern island in Japan where his parents originated.  The problem was that he wasn't sure he could buy it in Wichita, and he was right.  He had ordered it shipped in from Denver.  He needed a white mountain yam also, however, so he went to Wichita to buy that at Thai Bhin. This is a giant carrot-shaped root, almost two feet long and slightly flattened along the long dimension.  It cost $18.00, which prompted Hiromi to declare that he won't be making this cake very often.  While shopping at various Asian markets in Wichita, he spied the other rice flours, and bought them too because they were a lot cheaper than the Japanese rice flour.  We couldn't tell much difference, so from now on the cheaper stuff will do.  

The cake is made by beating egg whites and adding sugar.  Then grated yam, which has a very slimy texture when grated raw, is mixed with water and added.  Last of all the  rice flour is mixed in.  Then it's placed in a small heat-proof container and steamed over boiling water.  

The resulting cake is very moist, pleasantly mild-flavored, and snowy white.  

Hiromi's sister and her husband came over this afternoon for cake, and we had a nice visit over cake and green tea and coffee--the preferred drinks divided along ethnic lines today--two and two.


Japanese has a maxim that is roughly translated "There is no delicious food among regional favorites."  I think it sounds a little disrespectful and depressing, but I suppose it's saying that just because it's common and well-liked in one place doesn't mean that everyone will like it.  It makes allowance for what might be enjoyed mainly because it's one of the comfort foods of one's homeland. 

Liverwurst and fried mush?  I'm very fond of it, maybe for the above reason, but I don't suppose everyone is.


I'm glad Hiromi wasn't working at Wal-Mart yesterday when an argument broke out in the parking lot between a woman and three other people--two men and a woman.  When the three got into a vehicle and left, the woman followed and shot repeatedly at the first vehicle.  The chase ended when the first vehicle crashed into a business building.  The shooter fled, and later turned herself in.  She was charged with attempted second degree murder and is currently cooling her heels in the county jail.


My local birding nephews, Joseph, Bryant, and Andrew have started a blog on which they post pictures and short accounts of birding adventures.  They've been emailing me and their Uncle Bill pictures regularly over the past few years, ever since both Lowell's family and Myron's got a good bird photographing camera, and now others can start keeping track of what's going on also.  Check it out here.  Gulls are the latest feature--yes, seagulls, right here in middle America.


LaVerne and Rebecca had both a new granddaughter and a new grandson born within the past month.  Floyd and Dorcas received a newborn daughter for adoption, Kyra Jubilee, their first child.  Craig and Rachel had a boy born to them, Enzo Shaviv.  He is their fourth child, second son.  

For Floyd and Dorcas, it's been an intense year so far.  The first adoption plan fell through, and then a second opportunity materialized abruptly.  Last week Dorcas' father died.


My co-teacher Norma spent a short weekend in Ohio.  I hope all goes well on the return trip.  

Wesley, our principal, had a round of illness beginning last Thursday a week ago.  He returned this past Tuesday.  

No one came to school on Monday.  With Glenda still sick at the grade school, and Sheila stuck on a return trip from elsewhere, and with some students also sick, the powers that be wisely canceled school.  We had a bit of snow too--not enough to call off school, but it was a bit slick on some of the roads.  I think everyone loved the bonus time off.  


The Shepherd's Institute was held at the Arlington church last week.  I made it there only one evening, and met two blog-readers afterward, Mary Sue Zehr and Linford Berry.  As always, meeting "unknown friends" like this was a pleasure.  


Predicted overnight low temperature here is five degrees.  Or, as we're fond of saying, "It's going down into the digitals!"

Mellowed or Decomposed

For me, a great variety of current concerns and memories both of recent and long-ago events have swirled around the question of what one does when something in a current situation seems untenable for some reason.  This post will be a ramble through some of those situations.  If God blesses with insight and the ability to communicate, the rambles will lead us to a worthwhile destination, if not in this post, perhaps in a later one.


I'll start with an unusual announcement we heard this morning in church.  It was about laughter in church.  I wrote about that topic here a  long time ago, after a sermon by Eli Yoder of Glays, VA.  Twila neatly summarized the announcement in the handout we get in our mailboxes after the service:  "The ministers have had some discussion about laughter in church.  Their goal is that people are involved and responsive; they also advise moderation."  In making the announcement, Gary reminded us that we're not the only ones present in a church service, and none of us want our actions to interfere with another's worship.

I appreciate this gentle approach to calling attention to the matter of decorum in church--where one person's enthusiastic affirmation can be another's disturbance.  It's exactly the kind of situation that calls for gentle guidance--not heavy-handed prohibitions or bold initiatives.


One thing came immediately to mind--the comment Milo Z. made at the beginning of the sermon last week.  He commended us for the atmosphere he senses in our worship.  Words I recall from his commendation are "freedom in the spirit" and "decently and in order."

His sermon followed a devotional on worship that Joseph H. helpfully recalled for us again this morning by citing the main points.  Scripture, by example and injunction, when it speaks of our responsibility in worship, focuses on effort, preparation, and perfection.  Joseph went on to read several Scriptures and then had Shane lead in a time of singing for the remainder of the devotional time.  It was a good, worshipful time.

Just for the record, someone reminded me today that we had chuckled several times through Arlyn's devotional on worship--before Milo's comment.  It tells me that he, at least, did not find the chuckles offensive, but rather part of a desirable worship atmosphere.


The "we're not the only ones present" part of the laughter announcement reminded me of what I've made a policy in the classroom--people do not open or close windows or adjust the blinds or start a fan without first checking with others in the room to see what is comfortable also for them.  If a teacher is present, that's the first person to check with.  I usually check with other students to see if the change is OK and  it usually happens, with a little direction often making it more pleasant for everyone.  Please turn the fan so it blows up or Open only the window on the right or Open it only several inches.

Observation reveals that moderation is not the natural tendency.  Crank those windows wide open.  Lower the blind all the way.  Adjust the slats of the blind to blackout position. High school students often operate near the limits.  I hope that in a small way reminders for consideration and moderation in the classroom help students in life outside of school--even extending to things like laughing in church.


Our principal once commented mildly about a student, describing that person as "wanting to exercise a lot of control over [his or her] environment."  That put a finger on tendencies all of us had observed--irritation with other "mere mortals," unhappiness about participating in group activities,  and a fairly grim approach to school life in general.

Wishing to control one's environment too stringently is not conducive to functioning well, enjoying good relationships, or nurturing a spirit of optimism.  As noted earlier, however, doing things decently and in order, with consideration for others, often calls for some reminders to rein in excesses and exercise initiatives cautiously.  Operating near the limits is often not a good policy, especially when it involves exercising control over our environment.


In an earlier post I referred to something I lament--a growing tendency in our community for privately-planned, outside-the-main-group gatherings, to which others are selectively invited.  This post refers to some of the reasons why I think such activities can be problematic:

1.  It can involve an unhealthy focus on creating an ideal environment instead of a humble willingness to contribute helpfully in an existing environment--a desire to control the atmosphere, if you please.

2.   Considerable freedom does already exist in the format of our public services and the services are a blessing to many--as is true also of whole-group youth activities.  I can't imagine that it can entirely be blamed on "the system" if not everyone finds these activities to their liking and opts for non-participation or replacing it with a different activity.  The atmosphere is hardly the only variable operating here. Creating an atmosphere "near the limits" for a significant number of those in the whole group is not in anyone's best interests, as I see it, at least if it must be done via heavy-handed directives or bold initiatives.

3.   Reaching out to one's neighbors and sharing Christ outside of church does happen regularly, I believe.  It's not an either/or matter--familiar, traditional activities or outreach.  It can be both/and.

4.  Sunday School classes are a sub-group within the larger group where a lot of personal interchange can occur. Investment in that subgroup and in the time spent together is something I find very rewarding.

5.  Hearing repetition of familiar truths can be a help to Christian growth and not a hindrance to it.  Jesus demonstrated how familiar shared knowledge can form the basis for deepening and extending understanding when he said:  "Ye have heard . . . , but I say unto you . . . "

Reading back over the above list reminds me of some of the things that I consider "right" in our church/community's identity, although I didn't set out to compile such a list.


This post has languished on the composing screen for a week, and I'm afraid it hasn't improved with age.  At least I hope it hasn't been decomposing during that time.  "Mellowing" has a nicer ring.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Community Identity: A Critique

Several months ago I was primed to write on church/community identity when I realized that I wasn't quite ready.  Some pieces of this puzzle have fallen in place for me within the past few days, and I'm creeping out of my hidey hole to expose to the view of others the picture I'm seeing.

The plot in the pilgrims and strangers narrative thickened yesterday when Milo Zehr preached on what it means to belong to the family of God.  He began with Abraham and traced the story of being God's people--right through the Old and New Testaments and out into the life we live now.  It could hardly have been a more thorough telling of how intrinsically our identity as Christians is tied up with our identity as strangers and pilgrims, although his primary emphasis was the missionary mandate embedded in the story.  God's heart is for all  nations to be brought into His family where belonging and redemption await.

In the third and final Sunday School lesson in Hebrews 11, we reviewed yesterday what it meant for many people of the past to walk in faith.  Some experienced great triumphs, things like having the dead come back to life, seeing the mouths of lions stopped, violent flames being quenched, etc.  But terrible things befell others.  The most disturbing image is the report of some having been sawed apart.  Yet all these--the sufferers, along with the triumphant, obtained a good report, That is, God approved of them, and in the end they were rewarded.  Faith was the guarantee of approval--not immediate and visible evidence of good results.

Rachel said in our class that she used to be ever-so-sorry that the book of Acts ended where it did, with so much of the story left untold.  She now sees the unfinished story of the church as being continuously extended as the church lives out being the people of God.  In affirmation of that, Rhoda told how one of her young children once asked, "Will we someday be in the Bible too?" No and yes! child.  The writing of the Bible is done, but oh, the story of being the people of God!   That isn't done, and we're in it right now!  Someday others will know our story and see how we lived and what came of it.

I feel a palpable burden right now about our community identity in relation to living as pilgrims and strangers.  My sense is that we did a better job in this department in the past than we are doing now. Although I'm not sure that the new identity is in the majority, I believe a significant shift has occurred.  I note a lamentable difference in these areas:

1.  Consumerism (e. g. buying processed foods instead of producing food, eating out a lot, having lots of clothes--frequently replaced, expensive vehicles)

2.  Hedonism (the major question often is "Does it make me happy?" or "Is it what I want?" or "Can I afford it?" rather than more honorable and less selfish ways of deciding what to indulge in or promote or pay for--e.g. sports, music, movies, big trucks, etc.)

3.  Laziness (efficiency and convenience are king, and toilsome effort is to be avoided)

4.  Image consciousness (perish the thought of appearing to be needy or out-of-step with the times in any way)

5.  Fouling our nest (if it makes us money, we can't be bothered with consideration of how it's affecting the environment we all live in)

6.  Increasing willingness--pressure, even--to exchange personal competence and knowledge for "leaving it to the pros" (e.g. education, healthcare, food preparation, and all kinds of construction and maintenance)

7.   Definition of success in financial or tangible terms (words of wisdom or discernment or deep knowledge of intangible truths have comparatively diminished value)

8.  Independence and isolation (less commitment to supporting whole-church-or-youth-group activities like singings and Wed. eve. services and more interest in "invitation-only group" or individual activities, eroding the whole-group activities themselves, and resulting in un-included people feeling marginalized)

In the devotional at church on Sunday Arlyn challenged our thinking about worship by suggesting that it's an activity in which extravagance and even perfectionism is legitimate.  I'm still digesting some of what he said, and am not prepared to elaborate on it further--only noting that what he was advocating is a far cry from the extravagance and other acts of selfishness that I see as being counter to living life as pilgrims and strangers.


In the dictionary I consulted, appreciation and criticism are both listed as synonyms for critique.  Obviously criticism is more in evidence in this post than appreciation.  Perhaps a later post can balance the emphasis.  While I stand by what is written here, I recognize that this is not a complete picture.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Pilgrims and Strangers

I’m being stalked by “Pilgrims and Strangers.”  Over many months of time I've sometimes caught sight of their shadowy figures, always hurrying off  before I've had a chance to accost them and ask them what it means to be a pilgrim and a stranger.  Pondering the matter in silence has had to suffice, for the most part.

At Mom’s funeral, Shane and four accompanying friends sang “I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger” as the first song, even before the moderator spoke.  “We’re all strangers,” Shane had said when he first proposed including that song at the funeral.

Mark N. used the phrase in his recent talk at the parent-teacher meeting, in speaking of the need to live life on a course running counter to popular culture–because we’re pilgrims and strangers.

Hebrews 11:1-16 was the Bible memory passage for January at school.  I’ve heard it recited a number of times as a result.  This is the signature New Testament “pilgrims and strangers” passage.

I encountered the pilgrim and stranger concept in Hiromi-and-my January readings in the book of Genesis–in the story of Abraham.  My awareness of how Abraham exemplified this was heightened by having spent the past number of weeks poring over the book of Hebrews–reading it over and over, copying various outlines I’ve found on the book, reading it in various versions, taking notes, etc.

I read Genesis against the background of what Hebrews says of Abraham and his faithful cohorts, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Sarah--that they all obtained God’s approval.  By faith Abraham  obeyed in leaving his homeland to travel to an unknown country, dwelling in tents, looking for a city with firm foundations, built and made by God.   Abraham was persuaded of God’s promises, and embraced them, and confessed that he was a stranger and pilgrim on the earth, by it declaring plainly that he was in search of a better country.  God is not ashamed to be called the God of people who live by faith, who seek a heavenly country.

Last Sunday’s Sunday School lesson was Hebrews 11:11-22, which contains the exact phrase “pilgrims and strangers.”  In our class, someone asked “What does it mean today for us to be pilgrims and strangers?”

In our prayer together at home last night I prayed  aloud what has haunted me privately for a long time, “Lord, teach us what it means to be pilgrims and strangers.”

On one of those rare and perfect January days we had recently, sunny and calm, with the temperature between 60 and 70 degrees, I walked around the outside of the building at school and paused at the front entrance a moment before going back inside.  I had checked on some of the landscape plantings our students designed and installed, and noted especially the plants underneath the letters of our school name, Pilgrim Christian School.  I remembered wistfully how much nicer it looks there when the variegated-leaf wegelia is fully leafed  out and laden with pink tresses, and when the ornamental grass grows straight and tall beside the sign, helping to accent and frame it.  I looked carefully at the school-name sign itself and wondered if it could be removed and taken with us when our school moves.  It appears to be very securely fastened.  I soon realized that if the sign stayed after the school left, it would convey an inaccurate  message.  It would almost certainly have to be removed.  The plants could stay without such a problem.

The letters of “Pilgrim Christian School” were nicely made, apparently formed by bending slender square metal rods into very simple and attractive letter shapes.   There is no stiffness in the design–just enough departure from ball and stick form to give a touch of gracefulness and fluidity.  Spacers were welded onto the back of the letters to make them stand out away from the freshly-plowed-dirt-colored brick exterior wall they were fastened onto.  The white paint on the letters is not in perfect condition anymore after 30-some years, but they still stand out nicely from the dark background.  I wondered who crafted the letters of “Pilgrim Christian School.”  Those letters look like plodding pilgrim letters–utterly lacking in ostentation, strong and durable and easy to read by whoever has occasion to enter the church yard, but not emblazoned so boldly that they catch the eye of passers by.

The school name at the new location, in its previous iterations, always had an identifier in wide flat black glossy-painted letters mounted on the east-facing exterior wall to the north of the front entrance so as to be visible from the road.  Our simple and slender white “Pilgrim Christian School” letters would get lost on that wall and probably won’t be useful at the new site.  I’m not sure why that realization makes me cry.  A scrap-metal pile just seems like a sad destination for a “pilgrim,” even if it’s made of metal.

F. Y., the local lady who is at home briefly right now from her teaching job in China had a contribution in Sunday School, in answer to the question about how to make being pilgrims and strangers practical.  In essence she said that it makes a big difference if we remember that our real home is in heaven.  This understanding prompts people to live very differently than they would otherwise.  She sees it in her students, in many who have no hope of heaven.  They feel justified in doing everything possible to make their lives as comfortable as possible, acting greedy and stepping on others as necessary to get what they want.

I can only believe that those Chinese students have not been noticing the host of strangers and pilgrims who are journeying toward or have already arrived at their true home. They haven’t seen the Savior and the angels welcome those who live as strangers and pilgrims.  They can’t fathom that a place exists where they  don’t forever feel slightly off-balance in the place they  occupy, as strangers do, or feel restless because they  know they  must move on, as pilgrims do.

Those stalkers?  Witnesses, examples, admonitions,  and reminders actually.   I must do as they teach me: be persuaded of God’s promises, embrace those promises, confess that I too am a stranger and pilgrim on the earth.  By this I can declare plainly that I seek a better country beyond this life.

“Poor Wayfaring stranger” and  “Plodding Pilgrim.”  Obtaining God’s approval and receiving God’s promises makes these humble identities worth coveting and pursuing.