Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A great dad

I am one of the lucky ones. I had a great dad. More of an intellectual and naturalist than a businessman, Dad compiled lifetime journals of wild flowers and birds. He did historical research on the Mennonites in this area, publishing his findings. He was the spiritual patriarch of our church.

Seminary students, missionaries, new pastors and their families lived with us until they found more permanent lodgings. We had frequent guests. Following one of mother's fabulous meals, Dad and his friends talked theology and politics. Like a moth attracted to light, I' was mesmerized by the flow of big words.

Dad read to us at bedtime. We'd take our baths, put on our PJ's, then snuggle beside him while he read aloud. After we left home, he read novels to Mother as she crocheted. We didn't get a TV until I was in college, but my Granddad had one. Sundays we went there to watch the Ed Sullivan Show. Dad believed the arts were integral to a good education. He took us to museums, concerts, the Ice Follies. He bought art books and records. We kids sat in the front row at the Community Concerts so we'd be first in line to get our programs autographed. One of our favorite pastimes was dressing up and playing opera. 

Dad was absolutely distraught the time William Warfield came to Gettysburg and couldn't find a local restaurant or hotel where blacks could eat or sleep. Not a sportsman, Dad still cheered for Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers. When we adopted our bi-racial boys, Dad was our greatest supporter. He hated racism and sexism. We went on rambling vacations.

Spring included wild flower and birding hikes. He taught us to garden. He grew roses. After a particularly virulent invasion of bind weed, he dug up the entire garden and sifted out the tiny bits of roots rather than use herbicides. He insisted we learn the value of money. He planted a half acre of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, then turned their care over to us girls. For years I thought red raspberries tasted like green worms. He enjoyed cooking, specializing in salads, pickles and relishes.

Few understood my midlife desire to go to seminary. Dad did. He helped me study. He babysat when needed. He critiqued my papers. When our denomination refused to ordain me because I was female he led the congregation in finding another path to ordination. At his memorial service, a friend of Dad's remarked, “Joyce, you were the son your father never had.”

I wish all kids benefited from a dad like mine. But, as long as our social policies work against good schools and poorer families are penalized for trying to get ahead many kids won't be so lucky. Why can we can give tax breaks and subsidies to the Super Wal-Marts and the 1% but can't design a system that rewards the poor for working, saving and improving their lives simply by gradually decreasing their benefits rather than cutting them off at artificial lows. Financial security certainly helped my dad give us a great childhood!

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church. You can follow her blog at FairfieldMennonite

I am a depression , WWII brat. I remember those hard times with some fondness. Thrift and doing without was just the way it was. Hobos rode the trains to Orrtanna and Mother fed whomever came. I talked with the men as they ate. They weren't scary, just broken and sad. Everything was rationed; gas, meat, flour, sugar, milk, shoes. “Oleo” came in plastic bags with a little color bubble in the middle. We wore hand-me-downs, bought war bonds, gathered milkweed silk to make parachutes, recycled metal including gum wrappers, rolled old sheets into bandages, grew victory gardens, canned and froze anything edible. My dad got Mother a freezer and when Earl and I married years later we used that freezer for another 43 years! Resources then were just too precious to make junk! Patriotism meant everyone did their part. If wars are worth fighting then they are worth asking citizens to support them with higher taxes and a new series of war bonds.

My grandfather owned the Orrtanna Canning Company, so as the boss's brats we raided the ice cream freezers in the cafeteria, played in empty trucks, took turns falling into the cherry tanks! German POW's worked at the plant, since most men were in the armed services. We discovered POW's were people just like us. For years we sent food and clothing packages to their families and other post war victims. In 1959 Earl and I went to Europe to participate in post war efforts. We distributed food and clothing, helped build houses for refugees.

Every summer the community women canned fruit and vegetables at the Orrtanna Methodist Church. Hundreds of jars for the county home and needy! We kids peeled peaches and tomatoes, snapped beans, husked corn. Orrtanna's annual Halloween party was amazing. One guy, stuffed in a burlap bag and and dumped in the corner won first prize as a sack of potatoes. Winters we shoveled snow, built snowmen, skated on the cold storage pond, sledded down the schoolhouse hill.

Summers we kids picked cherries. We rode to the orchards in an old model T school bus that wouldn't start without a good cussing. Afternoons we rode our bikes to El Vista Orchards for a refreshing swim in their pool. August's “dog days” included feared polio outbreaks. 

If you had a phone, you had a party line. When mother called anyone her first words were “Aunt Verna, hang up!” Orrtanna had a post office and a general store. King's Store carried food, sewing supplies, sheets and towels, shovels, seeds, car parts, and local gossip. Dried beef was really cheap. We ate lots of dried beef. 

Orrtanna's school had only 2 rooms: the little side and the big side. We bought our own pencils and paper and walked home for lunch. Once we mastered our grade level material, Miss Miller and Miss Walters assigned research projects, book reports, had us tutor kids who weren't as far along. The school had pot bellied stoves and a stinky outhouse. We used old catalogs for toilet paper. When the Orrtanna Canning Company burned to the ground we kids stood by the school windows and watched.

Adams County may be more conservative than I'd prefer but it was a great place to grow up in. It still is!

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church You can follow her blog at Fairfield

Get over yourself

I went to a mindfulness retreat the other week. I do silence fairly well, though focusing on my breath for 40 minutes was a bit much. I loved the outdoor walks being mindful of the newly awakened signs of spring. At lunch we were to chew each bite at least 30 times before swallowing, savoring the flavor and texture of our food. Not easy since my sandwich was dry and tasteless.

I loved the mindful exercises. Moving slowly and deliberately touched something deep inside me. In the afternoon we were instructed to sit or lie quietly while our leader led us in guided imagery. I was restless and lay down with some very “mindful” resistance in my head. As my mind wandered off I suddenly heard this voice inside my head say “For goodness sake, Joyce, get over yourself!” Laughing quietly at myself I relaxed and fell asleep, that is until my friend poked me. “You're snoring!”

At the conclusion of the day we gathered in a large circle “to share.” I confessed I'd come more out of support for my friend than for myself. My excuse for lack of interest was that I've worked at this “mindfulness” thing for years. I really try to “be present to the moment” as much as possible rather than worrying about a future that hasn't arrived or stewing over a past I can't change. Consequently, being reminded that I take myself too seriously and needed “to get over myself” was pretty significant. That made the day really meaningful.

I may have resented chewing that dry sandwich 30 times per bite but today I eat more slowly and chew more deliberately. Which is good. And, I've done a lot of thinking about the experience and realize how important my own definition of mindfulness is to me. For me, Mindfulness is shaped by gratitude.

Gratitude. I am grateful I can feel the sun and rain, soft and strong breezes. I am grateful I can see and enjoy green grass and blooming flowers. I am grateful I am still able to breath, walk, eat, see, laugh, talk, read, and enjoy just being alive. I am grateful for friends. I am grateful that little things make my every day life beautiful and precious. In fact, I can't remember when I've had a really really bad day. Bad things happen like getting a flat tire, the pressure cooker blowing beets on the ceiling, the pipes freezing and the kitchen flooding and the ceiling coming down, a beloved family member dying. But even then the power kept working, folks helped out, the sun rose and set. In fact. painful experiences simply put the wonder of every day life in perspective. But I do ache for the Syrian refugees or others in desperate situations who aren't as fortunate as I.

Retreats are nice, but the real challenge comes in being mindfully grateful for my humdrum days. Being open in mind, body and spirit. Being willing to adapt, change, respond. Letting go of the need to be right, safe, secure, in control. Embracing new ideas and ways of being. Reaching out to the God within and the God without. Being gratefully and intentionally aware of just how blessed I truly am.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church. You can follow her blog at www/

Neither prejudice or fear

January 1967. While admiring the babies through the nursery window at Gettysburg Hospital I noticed a dusky brown infant whom gossip had was the product of local “white trash” and a migrant. When someone behind me said, “God love him, who'd want him” I heard myself say, “We would.” That baby was placed with us in foster care and two years later we formally adopted him, then adopted a second bi-racial child.

Our extended families were always supportive, though my husband's mother later confessed she'd had mixed feelings until watching a TV news clip of the Selma march and police brutality, she gasped, “that could be my grandson their hurting!”

Have things really changed? Almost weekly we hear of another unarmed black being gunned down by white police, of racial profiling. Blacks and Hispanics are incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites. Their sentences are longer. Why are we so afraid of each other? Why do we teach our children to hate based on skin color? Why are we so threatened by our religious or social differences? Aren't we all God's children? Our boys bleed red just like our girls. Their kisses are just as sweet. 

True, we've made progress since the 60's. For instance, inter-racial families are fairly common these days. In 1969 ours was the first inter-racial adoption in Adams County. We quickly discovered others depended on us to set the tone so they'd know how to react to us. That included some funny incidents. One day a drunk (white) staggered up to me in Gettysburg and snorted, “Got yourself a black one this time, didn't you?” I was still laughing when we got home!

While we taught our kids that skin color was just like eye or hair coloring, they still experienced the ugly face of prejudice. More than once our girls got in trouble at school for hitting someone who'd called their little brothers the “N” word or the boys came home crying. One night we watched the movie “Old Yeller.” In a scene where the father is roughed up by a gang of whites, our youngest, about 6 at the time, threw himself at me sobbing, “why does everyone hate me?” What could I say? What can any parent of a black or brown child say? “Just because your skin is darker?”

After years of searching, our youngest finally found his birth mom. On the internet, of course. Last Thanksgiving we met her. We marveled at the ways our lives had intersected because she'd loved her child enough to give him up for adoption. We thanked her for giving us the most precious gift possible: her beloved child. She thanked us for giving her “a life” as she took advantage of not being a teen mother and put herself through college. Today she is a successful dress designer for celebrities in Vegas.

Our nation was founded on the principle that all are created equal. Too many of us are still limited by prejudice and fear. It is crucial we come together to ensure that neither race, gender, sexual orientation, wealth, nor religion define who is allowed to succeed and who to fail. As Martin Luther King said, what matters is not the color of ones skin but the character of ones soul.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church. You can follow her at