Prairie View

Monday, November 30, 2020

Who I Thought We Were

The “We” in the title refers primarily to the people I go to church with.  In the spirit of the season, I am choosing here to omit some of the negative things I believe are true also.  If I ever compile a negative list, I'm positive that it will be much shorter than this one is. While the list is being compiled during the pandemic, I believe who we have become culturally and spiritually happened over a period of many decades, and even centuries.  My forebears have lived in Kansas since 1883.  Much of what is listed here could also have been said of them, I believe.  

I can imagine that a few people who are also part of our church might say after reading this list I don’t think this is who we are anymore.  They might be right.  Admittedly, some of the thoughts that eventually spilled onto the screen were prompted by consternation and even disbelief at what I've observed recently.  Formulating this list is partly an effort to identify what is right about who we are or were in order to make necessary corrections in places where we have strayed from what is "right."

I wrote by far the biggest portion of this list in one sitting, and added a few items in two more time slots before Thanksgiving.  Only a few were added more recently.  I’m just as surprised as you are at the size of the list.  The items are written in the order I thought of them.  Coming out of an ADD brain, this order looks pretty random, because it is.

I’d love to hear your reactions in the comments–either about a specific item or a general comment or a comment on this congregation-specific list or your own situation.


1. People who believe in the power of suffering love to bring about significant and lasting change in the world–as modeled by Jesus.

2.  People who understand that political power is fundamentally at odds with the power of suffering love.

3.  People who stand firm on the basics of Christian faith while extending grace to all.

4.  People who respect our authorities.

5.  People who promote the “common good.”

6.  People who share generously with the needy.

7.  People who alleviate the suffering of others.

8.  People who believe that our witness is important.  

9.  People who believe that surrender to God and the church is important.

10.  People who regard our citizenship in the Kingdom of God as our primary identity.

11.  People who identify as pilgrims and strangers on the earth.

12.  People who want to be identified as being separated unto God.

13.  People who are willing to be identified as members of a specific Christian brotherhood.  

14.  People who welcome anyone from anywhere into our church services. 

15.  People who extend special favor to the weak.

16.  People who adjust as needed in times of adversity, rather than rage against the adversity.

17.  People who recognize sin and evil and want no part in it.

18.  People who treasure the “right of appeal” but hold other rights loosely. 

19.  People who are sympathetic to others who suffer–because we remember the suffering of our spiritual ancestors.

20.  People who love corporate worship.

21.  People who love discussing Scripture together.

22.  People who love to share ordinary life with others in the church.  

23.  People who honor each other in the brotherhood.  

24.  People who understand the importance of repentance, confession, and restoration when wrongdoing occurs.

25.  People who seek forbearance when they become aware of unintentional mistakes.

26.  People who are ready to do the right thing even if no authority has provided a directive for it.  

27.  People who accept the Word of God, the life of Jesus, and the witness of the Holy Spirit as the primary guides for life.

28. People who also accept the factually-based and faith-tradition-informed counsel of the brotherhood as trusted guides for life.

29.  People who trust each other on the basis of a shared commitment to being in fact who we claim to be in name.

30.   People who are not greedy, and who do not seek their own profit at others’ unfair expense. 

31.  People who see obedience to authority as evidence of respect.

32.  People who live in a patriarchal society, with the elements of provision, protection, and guidance being in evidence on the part of men. 

33.  People who act intentionally and deliberately–not hastily or thoughtlessly.

34.  People who interact kindly with others–in word and deed.

35.  People who know that being a Christian always involves “persecution” of some kind (offenses will come), for which God extends grace.

36.  People who know that deserved punishment is not persecution.

37.  People who pray for others.

38.  People who cultivate a private spiritual life through regular Bible reading and prayer.

39.  People who prefer to settle conflicts in the brotherhood internally rather than through outside intervention.

40.  People who recognize that we are a blessed people.

41.  People who respect others who have more knowledge than we have.

42.  People who welcome enlightenment through learning.

43.  People who respect tradition.

44.  People who value forthrightness.

45.  People who value all human life.

46.  People who value strong family ties.

47.  People who value resourcefulness.

48.  People who see the value both of bearing one’s own burdens, and bearing the burdens of others.

49.  People who value contentment more than having all our wants supplied in order to maintain appearances.

50.  People who value moderation in all things that are neutral in themselves.

51.  People who extend forgiveness for wrongs done against us.

52.  People who strive to live transparent, consistent lives.

53.  People who invite inspection of their own lives.

54.  People who admonish each other.

55. People who are frugal in their purchasing habits and careful to avoid waste.

56. People who are uncomfortable with ostentation.

57. People who value self-sufficiency. 

58.  People who affirm both the importance of personal responsibility and group harmony. 

59.  People who avoid confrontation whenever possible.

60.  People who see self-control as a virtue.  

61.  People who frown on self-promotion.

62.  People who are happiest when they are able to move about in public without attracting undue attention.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Covid and a Straight Line to God

One of the confounding things about being under multiple authorities is that sometimes these authorities do not agree.  What is a person to do when this happens?  COVID-19 has provided many opportunities for pondering this dilemma.  As of the past several weeks, changes both in local infection levels (significant increase), and in what we're hearing from our county and church leaders has "raised the temperature"* on this issue.

I realized several days ago that, without putting it into words, I had settled into an approach that at the moment seems to be serving me well.  Clarity began to be restored when I acknowledged that God is the ultimate authority.  Ideally of course, every other authority lines up neatly under God's authority, and there is then no question about the message being delivered through one's authorities.  All that is left to people like me is to decide whether to obey** or not.   

I imagine the process of receiving guidance from my authorities being something like seeing God bathed in light at the top of a mountain while I am surrounded by darkness in a valley below. The whole mountainside lies in shadow.  Many figures, each one a lesser authority than God, stand between the valley and the mountain top.  They each hold a light.  My goal is to get to the top of the mountain where God is. How I wish that all those lights appeared in a straight line between me and God.  I wish also that the circle of light around each figure would be big enough to extend to the edge of the circles around neighboring figures.  That would spare me from floundering in the dark along the way.    

What I have seen recently as it applies to navigating the hazardous terrain of COVID-19 is that God offers me a light that ensures that I can get to him, even if the circles of light on the mountainside are too small and the dark places are too large.  That light is the guidance of the Holy Spirit within.  In mundane terms, I will know how to act individually in dealing with Covid in specific situations, because God's spirit will show me.  

Whether the problem we encounter is unwise actions by authorities or unwise responses to those authorities, our first and last priority is to stay connected to God. In him we "live and move and have our being."  This is our safe place.  


*A term from Leadership Reno County classes.  It is a strategy that can be useful in moving toward  change when it is needed.  In general, the idea is similar to exerting pressure. I see prayer, witness, and appeal as legitimate person-to-person ways of raising the temperature.

**Other words could be used here in relation to authority:  support, agree with,  affirm, comply with, etc.

Note:  I've have had many problems with this post.  The original version (which is now lost due to technical problems) had a reference to something Covid-related that I learned from E. W., my cousin, when we visited during our Sunday afternoon walk.  Additional information later showed me that I needed to re-examine some of the conclusions I had drawn from that original information, so I removed the post, in order to rewrite it.  Then I added material along a different vein, which is now also lost.  All that to say that what I copied below from Facebook now seems disconnected from the other content, but it didn't start out that way.  I decided to post it anyway, for your interest and for my record.

This cousin just received a visa in preparation for moving overseas for five years.  The language learning is happening in preparation for being able to communicate after he and his wife arrive in their destination country.  I have learned that being a bit vague about details in cases like E. W.'s is sometimes necessary because of sensitive conditions or a fragile welcome in a destination country.  I don't know enough to know whether such caution is warranted in this case, but I'm choosing to err on that side, just in case.  

Yesterday on our walk along the nearly deserted straight, flat, paved road by our house, my cousin came along on his bike. He was getting in some exercise (and some language learning via electronics) on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We talked all the way home, properly distanced, with his biking on one side of the road and our walking on the other side.
Among the interesting things I learned is that an oil-rich country in the Middle East is investing heavily in solar energy. My cousin knows this because his son lives there and works in that industry. Do you think maybe they know something in the Middle East that America should also be acknowledging?
The son speaks both Arabic and French because of having spent part of his childhood in countries or schools where those languages were spoken, but uses far more English in the course of his work than the other languages. English is the undisputed world trade language, and knowledge of it is very common in almost every country's expat communities.
Another interesting thing I learned is that Portuguese is the language of at least one African country.
I learned too that a private program exists in the US where teachers are placed in public schools, even though they may not have acquired an education degree. It's a two-year program, and they get a crash course in teaching before they begin. They're paid for their work. The cousin's daughter teaches in Seattle.
One final thing I learned is that the cousin's brother, who has lived and taught for years in a university in the country that was the US nemesis in the Cold War was recently granted a permanent visa to that country. This is an enormous favor to a foreigner, and reveals a great deal of confidence in him. Did I mention that he knows now that he has been the target of previous investigations by the government of the country in which he works and resides during the school year?
We traveled a long way safely in that short walk home. A gift for sure in the fraught and frightening current environment.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Thoughts on Election Day 2020

I have primarily one certainty about this day:  the election will be uppermost in my thoughts and prayers.  Our church is open today for all who wish to go there to pray.  I plan to do so.  I am not praying that any specific candidate will  be elected.  Nor will I vote for any of them (unless you don't know me, you aren't familiar with Amish-Mennonite traditions, or you're a new reader of this blog, you'll understand why).  I'll share further here what concerns will be reflected in my prayers.

1.  That Christians will mindfully divest themselves of partisanship (loyalties based on political parties).

2.  That Christians will agree with God about righteousness and evil, regardless of where it is found.

3.  That Christian leaders will be bold in declaring the transcendence of God's Kingdom over all earthly kingdoms.

4.  That all Christians will adopt a humble stance toward those in authority, with obedience to laws being an underlying expression of this.

5.  That love for one's neighbors will be real and in evidence.  

6.  That those who are vulnerable will be protected and provided for, particularly during this pandemic.

7.  That ignorance, cruelty, and militancy will never be glorified among or defended by Christians.

8.  That Christians will be bold  in speaking Truth (in the prophetic tradition) and humble in bearing witness (observing carefully and reporting accurately).  

9.  That the right to appeal to authorities, and the obligation to obey and pray for them take precedence over seeking personal advantage or ease.  

10.  That Christians will see the contradictions between commitments to nationalism or American exceptionalism and commitment to the Kingdom of Christ.  

11.  That the misplaced loyalties of professing Christians will be exposed and destroyed. 

12.  That no intimidation, dishonesty, or violence will occur in connection with the election. 

13.  That images appropriate for the situation come to the fore for Christians seeking direction in living a life of faith.  I'm remembering especially the images of Christians being salt and light and pilgrims and strangers.*


*Other Scriptural images of what Christians are to be are valid also:  runner, soldier, fighter, citizen, burden bearer, shepherd, child/newborn baby, healer, peacemaker, ambassador, steward, traveler, exile, pilgrim, stranger, fisherman, builder, messenger, fellow-heir,  servant, new creation, part of a body/building/family/peculiar people/chosen generation/royal priesthood/holy nation, a rock, a vessel, sheep/lamb, chick, refined gold, bearer of good fruit, precious seed, having a sound mind/being sober/being vigilant/free of offensive acts.  Maybe someday I'll find time to explore these ideas further or add to the list, rather than simply sorting through my memory to find the words and designations that  appear here.  Each image reveals truths that expand and deepen our understanding of what a Christian is or should be.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Sunday Wrap Up--November 1, 2020

This morning, two days before the 2020 presidential election, I read Luke 1.  In the words of Gabriel and Mary I found assurance for this conflictive time.  

For some reason, I find confident predictions of who will win the presidency extremely bothersome, especially when offered by Joe Blow without convincing or even supporting evidence.  I'm thinking "you've got to be kidding.  I'm supposed to believe you, just because you have the audacity to claim certainty about this."  

Maybe my husband's preferences are rubbing off on me.  He hates to guess or estimate or conjecture or prognosticate.  I think it's because he has an engineer's brain, where exact data is critical. Also, I suppose the English-as-a-second-language thing figures in.  He really doesn't "get" rhetorical questions, and often offers a quick "I don't know" rather than to extend the rumination  by offering further input.  He's definitely not guessing the outcome of the election, and neither am I.  


" . . . no word from God shall ever fail,"  Gabriel told Mary.  She answered by saying, I am the Lord's servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled."*  This short passage is a reminder that God keeps his promises.  In light of that, whole-hearted submission to and trust in God makes sense.  

I had never before thought of the Magnificat in the context of a tumultuous time such as the present, so I was surprised with how well Mary's words offered the assurance I craved.  I probably should not have been surprised, now that I remember how shocking was the reality that Mary had to adjust to. In shock value, no possible election outcome holds a candle to this.  

Mary's song doesn't supply me with the name of a potential winner in the upcoming election, but it reassures me that remembering who God is and what he has done is the right thing to do.  I especially like how Mary knows with certainty that God lifts up the humble, fills the hungry, brings down the proud, and sends away the rich, empty.  It describes an evening of the score that I long for today.  Mary knew, and I know that this comes about through a Savior, not a political figure. 

Here are excerpts of what Mary said:

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant . . . the Mighty One has done great things for me--holy is his name.  His mercy extends to those who fear him . . . He has performed mighty deeds . . . he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts, He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant . . . remembering to be merciful . . . just as he promised . . . "


Something astonishing happened near the end of our church service this morning when a stranger got up to speak during the time when audience members were invited to do so.  He didn't tell us his name, and I don't know if anyone there knew it, although I'm sure that those who talked to him afterward know more now than I do.  In short, he told us he was there because his wife wanted him to come.  He did so in an effort to save his marriage.  He is apparently in his eighties.  His wife has had some good interactions with people from "Center Amish Church," and she promised that she would put on her "covering and her long clothes" again and come with him if he found this church for them to worship with (today, however, she was at a family event and couldn't come).  He attended "old Yoder Mennonite" when he was a child, and was converted there at the age of 10 or 11.  Since 1957 he has worked as a pastor in many different places, during which time he sometimes attended a "Beachy" church.  His wife at some point apparently had practices similar to ours.  So much mystery and too many credible details to dismiss it all as confused ramblings!


Jana, the church member who has worked as a doctor in a clinic in El Salvador for most of her professional life, faces a lot of uncertainty about her future, and the future of the clinic in El Salvador.    She is reaching retirement age, and so far, no one has been found to replace her.  She left her work abruptly earlier this year when the country went into lockdown, with plans at that time to return and reopen the clinic till it could be turned over to someone else.  Now that prospect is in limbo.  A clinic advisory board will meet this week to try to find a path forward.  


Several times recently I have heard criticism of our ministers, by members--specific to general, and mild to severe.  I'm still trying to process this.   My first inclination is to counter the criticism.  I don't share in feeling general dissatisfaction with what I hear in sermons or observe in character or leadership style.  The ministers are good people, doing their best.  I especially appreciate how they've led out during the pandemic, and wish there were more united support for their leadership. 

I do want to listen respectfully to what others are feeling.  Doing that while maintaining my own integrity is what I desire.  


Here's a short Facebook post I shared this afternoon:

Shared with Public
Prayer offered today in church for Donald Trump and for Joe Biden: "Help him to see you, and to see himself in light of who you are."
I loved it. It's an appropriate petition for us to pray for each other and for ourselves as well.


*New International Version