In my ’80s

In my 80s

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

  • McDonald’s cheapest senior coffee — 39 cents. McDonald’s most expensive senior coffee — 75 cents.
  • El Camino offers extreme simplicity. Can a measure of that release from complexity be imported to Indianapolis?
  • “Older people tend to sag,” says the physical therapist. “Shoulders back, please, and get off the couch.”
  • Joy is doing most of the driving when the two of us are afield. As for cleaning the car, the job remains mine.
  • Ringo hurt his leg. A torn tendon or ligament. He came to me yesterday. His eyes say, “Pop Pop, I know how a sore leg feels.”
  • Today, coffee with Hal my brother and Dave, a friend.
  • WWhy does a quality iPhone cost $479.00 and a set of hearing aids $4,790.00?
  • “Wait. It’ll come to me.”
  • RRegrets here that the noun invalid is profaned in adjective form by the word invalid.
  • AA wit is said to have exclaimed, “The older you get, the more you become like yourself.

Come walk with me

Monday, February 26, 2018

Today — Eagle Creek Reservoir in the northwest corner of Indianapolis.


“So nice out!” was one of the greetings from another walker. A bright blue day with nary a cloud. The week of rain made the woods walk muddy, so I stayed the path that circles the lake.

IMG_8662 2.jpg

The sounds of waterfowl — ducks, geese and cranes — carried across the water.


I didn’t walk at an El Camino pace. Not close to it. Not even an amble. I took me two hours to walk three miles because I poked around here and there.


A woodpecker, sounded to me like a pileated, moved around the top of the sycamore so that I couldn’t see it.


The path was muddy at places, but who is going to complain of a bit of mud when houses in southern Indiana have been given a mud bath.


I walked the short loop to the north of trail 6 in hopes of seeing deer. No animals but the creek posed prettily.


What a privilege to walk on a sunny late February afternoon.











Come walk with me

Sunday, February 25, 2018

In Pulaski County (IN) this afternoon, this is as close as I could get to a flock of feeding sandhill cranes.


Our house in Indianapolis is directly under the migration route, but the birds are too high for inspection. Even here I could not see the red/brown marking on their heads.


They stand 4 feet tall and have a wing span of 7 feet.


Friday, February 24, 2018

Can we talk about guns?

How might two people who maintain co-orientation handle an issue about which they strongly disagree with each other?

This question, in case you are wondering, is not hypothetical for me.

My dad and I experienced this situation big time without ever resolving the circumstance. Alas.

My brother and I experienced this situation and talked about it. Actually our talking about it led to a successful experiment: we reserved a time and space; there he told me why he was a Republican while I was to listen but not interrupt; then I told him why I was a Democrat while he was to listen but not interrupt. We agreed not to make a response at the time. We shook hands and parted. Thereafter I and most likely he found our discussing of politics to be far less stressful because, for one thing, we had experienced the benefit of listening.

In my lifetime quite a few issues have intruded themselves between my friends and me. (Remember that I am a Mennonite.) The wearing of regulation Mennonite garb. The use of musical instruments in church and school. Attendance at movies. Divorce and remarriage. Participation in military service. The Vietnam War. Women in church leadership. Homosexuality. Donald Trump.

And now guns.

May I repeat the question? How might my friend and I talk about guns. He is a member of NRA. He has guns. He has trained at target practice venues. When we have coffee together, he will excuse himself to thank a person across the way who is carrying heat. Yet I like him. He has contributed much to me in our coffees together, not only on how to use an iphone, but also how I might reconfigure a vent in the basement. We talk about children and grandchildren, jobs and hobbies, even about personal issues. I would be sad to lose his friendship.

My rather accurate guess is that he doesn’t want to talk with me about guns.
But I want to talk about guns. In my opinion gun ownership has gone well beyond a Constitutional issue, now reaching the status of a crisis. I want to talk about guns even if the talking does not change either me or my friend.


Here in this blog I will not and can not answer my question. But I will share with you thought bits that run through my mind.

  • Might we try the talking/listening game?
  • WWhat if we each quietly listed five reasons for or against gun ownership and then slowly, quietly each reading out loud while the other listened actively?
  • Could we try to articulate the other’s side, trying to be as accurate as possible?
  • Maybe we could play grown-up: each of using this scheme; an opinion/development/restatement — followed by the other’s rebuttal.
  • I think a neutral third party can make a difficult encounter successful by judicious and fair questions, restatements, etc.

    As I ruminate, families across the nation grieve for love ones who’s lives were shortened by gun violence.

Come walk with me

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Although I am not schooled in art, I view trees as the exquisite epitome of the summation of a myriad of creative intricacies. Walk with me to see several.

Here is a sycamore, grand at any season of the year.


Intricacies? Look at the bark pieces of this tree by Pleasant Run.


Trees may or may not know that they tutor me on how to be in my ’80s.


Unfortunately I do not know the names of many trees. That is a project for this year. Yet without knowing their names, I know them and stop by on my walks.


How many times have I walked this path, missing this sophisticated oldster of many interests.


Unfortunately I did not meet the interior decorator today.


Guardian of this neck of the woods and lake.


The myriad of creative intricacies … delivered quite simply to our view..

Lancaster Mennonite Conference (2)

Thursday, February 21, 2018

You may have read yesterday’s blog in which I expressed my consternation over the historic reasons that Lancaster Mennonite Conference would choose to be its own denomination. How can I respond with grace, I asked.

Today’s blog continues my rumination. Do not expect a tirade. Do not brace yourself for demeaning remarks. Instead, I am taking this moment to remember the church and the conference that I grew up in. I shall begin with a remembrance of Sunday School in the early 1940’s, written 40 or 50 years ago.

Sunday was important enough to begin on Saturday. We children took baths in the tub, not wanting to go first because the water was too hot, and not wanting to go last in the dirty water. Papa and Mama studied their Sunday school lessons, and sometimes Papa cut our hair with a clippers he squeezed with his hand. It pulled very hard, but he said, sometimes gruffly, to sit still.

Mama looked the same on Sunday as on Saturday, excepting that she put on a clean dress and didn’t wear her kitchen apron. But Papa looked different because instead of wearing overalls he wore a plain (Mennonite) coat that didn’t have lapels.

Right before we left the house, Papa looked for dirt in and behind our ears, and pushed our hair down with his heavy hand.

On the way to church, we’d pass our neighbors going to their churches. Papa and Mama said that the Nissley girls went to Erismans, Henry Stauffers to Kauffmans Church on Route 72, Freys attended Chestnut Hill, Siegrists and Heiseys and Housmans all belonged to East Petersburg which was the biggest church in the “district,” and Floyd Yoders went “down the line.” Jake Snyders were Brethren and so were Mussers and Sam Bakers.

One Sunday John Cope did some combining, and we saw Davy Nissley on his John Deere one Sunday. Neither of those men went to church. No matter, Papa and Mama shook their heads and said their being in the field was wrong. People were to “remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” A couple of our neighbors attended worldly churches; they were on our party line, and Mama said that she heard some things on the phone she wouldn’t repeat.

Our church was in Landisville, a big brick building next to an old log cabin with 1740 above the door. Papa drove our ’37 Chevy in at the north entrance, stopped to leave Mama and Erma by the women’s door, then parked on the east side by the cemetery. I wondered why Papa always chose the same place.

Papa and Mervin and I entered by the men’s door in front, and hung our coats and caps in the men’s ante-room. We’d meet others there; all the members would shake hands and give each other a holy kiss, because the Bible said to do it. You could tell who was a member by the plain clothing. If somebody visited from the Landisville camp grounds, you knew right away they were Methodists or something by their clothes. They were welcomed, of course, but not kissed. There wasn’t much standing around before Sunday school began; the visiting came after church.

Primary children sat on the first row on the women’s side. When the man who was called by a very long word “suprintendent” pushed a little dinger on a bell, he always said a big word “dismistferclass” and then we went to the children’s room in the basement where Martha Rohrer taught us songs like “Running Over.” My favorite, however, was “Mind the rule of Sunday school” because when we did the motions, we could stand up together and sit down together when the words said so.

After Sunday school, we went upstairs. Mervin and I sat with Papa through the long sermon. Erma sat with Mama.

One Sunday, Erma wanted to go to the toilet, so Mama let her go alone. The boy’s toilet was in the basement, but the girl’s was in the women’s ante-room. Erma went all by herself. The preacher was talking. Then Erma called with a very loud voice, “Mama, there’s no paper out here!”

Erma had said an awful thing. But later, every time Mama told about Erma hollering out in church, she laughed in a way that seemed to say “Terrible embarrassments become funny stories.”

Our church property touched the property of the Church of God. Those people weren’t plain. They parked in the school grounds across the street. We could see the people as they walk to the church. The men wore ties and had shiny shoes. The women had hair-dos. If our church ended before theirs did, we could sometimes hear them singing with the organ. We didn’t have such things in our church. We were plain.

Then and now.

I value my early recollections of church and surely I have been shaped by those experiences. Seventy years later I not only review my memories but also gather together events and impressions created since I was a child.

In moving away, I could look at Lancaster as an outsider. My careers in teaching, writing and consulting have taken me to many congregations, district conferences, and national assemblies. And, of course, students at Goshen College come from a broad sweep of the Mennonite world.

In reading historical texts such as John Ruth’s history of Lancaster Conference (The Earth is the Lord’s) and Theron Schlabach’s several volume history of the Mennonite Church, I gained a breadth of vision that I couldn’t come up with myself. Even a novel about Lancaster Mennonites in the final years of the 19th century (I hear the reaper’s song by Sara Stambaugh) helped me to understand the culture of “my people.”

What is my current sense of Lancaster Conference.

  1. They are  my people, caring, loving and generous. They are family oriented. They want in strong Mennonite communities. As farmers they have been successful. More lately their industry has made them probably the wealthiest Mennonite conference in the world.
  2. They  comprise a subculture, not only within the larger American culture, but also within the Mennonite religion and culture. They have not mixed readily with the Lutheran neighbor nor with most other Mennonite conferences. To this day, newcomers say that it takes a long, long time to be accepted as a native.
  3. While my congregation was traditional and seemingly altogether Mennonite, I can’t remember ever hearing about Menno Simons and/or other founders of Anabaptism. Instead the traditions seemed to reach back into the 19th and 18th centuries but not much beyond that. It’s orientation today seems to have been influenced as much by American evangelicalism as by Anabaptism.
  4. Lancaster Mennonites understood themselves to be “plain” people, non-conformed to the world. They did and still do “draw lines” on who is in and who is not in. The latest issues to cause a departure of congregations are Biblical interpretation, women in leadership, and LGBTQ.
  5. Lancaster Conference congregations have never enjoyed much autonomy, but are controlled by a Bishop Board whose constitution at one point required something like a 75% vote to make changes. To be guided by a national organization such as Mennonite Church USA did not and does not feel comfortable to them.

I regret the departure of Lancaster Mennonite Conference from the larger denominational body. It feels like a personal and organizational loss, the kind of “split” somewhat typical of Mennonite communities over the years.

Lancaster Mennonite Conference

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Mennonite World Review that arrived today includes an article on page 6 entitled “Lancaster chooses its own path.” Since I was born in Lancaster County, attended a Lancaster Conference church from my earliest days, was baptized into the church at a young age, went to a high school sponsored by the Conference and in general upheld the standards of the Conference while I lived there, including wearing the prescribed Mennonite “plain” cut coat (no lapels), I was immediately interested.

As of January 1, 2018, Lancaster Conference has withdrawn from Mennonite Church USA to return to an earlier state of being its own denomination. According to the article the Conference bishops developed “a laundry list of complaints,” the first of which moves me to tears.

Too many missionaries were educated at Goshen College, considered by conservatives to be a bastion of corrupting liberality.

I spent 33 productive, meaningful, enjoyable years as a Goshen College faculty member.

This evening, after reading the article, I pause to give attention to my feelings which are indeed in need of first aid. I am stunned, yet know that my emotions will gather themselves into a more or less common direction. Might I try through thoughtfulness and grace to help define the direction?

Hardly will Lancaster Conference care about or be affected by a sympathetic or a hostile response from me.

What wants to hurt more — hardly will Lancaster Conference care about those students from Lancaster who went to Goshen College, studied in my classes, interacted with me and other professors, and graduated into responsibilities and careers. One of these students went on to get her doctorate, now teaches in a medical school in Indianapolis and attends the same church I do.

I think of many others, worthy people, dedicated, imbibing the spirit of Goshen College campus which tilts strongly toward the sentiment of its motto “Culture for Service.”

Have I become more “liberal?” I place quotation marks around the word because its meaning varies widely. My world view has greatly expanded, beginning in college and graduate school. My understanding of sacred story has been enriched by multiple critical perspectives including narrative analysis. My understanding of divinity as the transforming spirit that Jesus knew links me to all of creation, including Lancaster Mennonite Conference.

This past weekend I attended the inauguration of a new Goshen College president, Dr. Rebecca Stoltzfus. That event filled my heart with gratitude for Goshen College and gratitude for the privilege of teaching there.

A bastion of corrupting liberality? Those words seem so cruel from the people who helped to make me who I am today. How can I respond with grace?