Thursday, October 1, 2015

I love libraries

I love libraries, those magical places where books of all shapes, colors, sizes, smells and topics march smartly along the shelves. Big libraries and little libraries, but my favorite is Fairfield's branch on Wortz Street. Plans are underway to move the Fairfield library to the new Carroll Valley building once it is built since the current location is small. I understand, but it makes me sad. I feel so pampered having our little library just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

The library was an immediate bright spot for me when we moved from our old stone house on Mt. Carmel Rd. Being able to walk to the library never ceases to bring me joy., especially since I don't drive much anymore. There's something magical about being able to slip up to the library any time I want just to browse the shelves, return a book, or say hello. I love having everything in one room, walking up to the desk and asking Sherry or Crystal (two of the best) to order a book knowing that within a few days it will be waiting for me. In the meantime, I go home with an armful of books. Once I asked for a book which wasn't available anywhere in Pennsylvania but Sherry looked until she found one in the Duke Library for me!

I love books. I have a Kindle which is much easier to use when I go to Wellspan to exercise, but that flat plastic thing isn't a real book. Plastic cannot replace the feel of paper, the rustle of turned pages, savoring full page illustrations, flipping pages back and forth to reread a passage, greedily reading knowing my book's battery will never run down.

Libraries are precious repositories of knowledge that connect us to our past and point us toward our future in far more personal ways than the reading something on a computer screen. Libraries bring people together. Libraries have chairs where one can sit and read or research. When I am in the library, I love scanning the cover's synopsis and reading several pages to decide if I like the author's style of writing or if it will challenge or inspire m. When greeting other library lovers who are reading magazines or working on the computers all seems right with the world.

Our kids grew up on books. A trip to the library or library story time was magical for them just as it is for me. Of course, books were such a sacred part of our bed time routine that our kids wanted to be read too even when they were in middle school. When the library had their annual book sale we'd buy our own copies of beloved books so we could reread them. Recently, our daughter walked in the door with a goofy grin on her face. “Look what I found.” she chortled as she dumped a collection of old much loved books on the sofa. “Read to me, Mom. “ So the two of us curled up on the loveseat, arms around each other like the old days, slowly turning pages , savoring the illustrations, we turned back the clock as we fell into the wishes and whimsy of Dr. Suess and other much loved favorites.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church

The joys of advertising

Several years ago Toyota featured Daryl Waltrip driving a pick-up tearing up lawns, driving into people's houses, laughing and hooting as he went. No doubt designed to “humorously” demonstrate the power of the pick-up, these ads glamorized bullying. I was so appalled that I called various Toyota dealers until I got someone in higher echelons with whom I could share my utter disgust with their ad.

OK, Earl and I are just two old curmudgeons. While I much prefer public television, we also watch commercial TV. However, since attending a workshop years ago on becoming a discerning TV watcher I've become more aware of the hidden values programs and ads communicate. Advertisers know that we are all deeply influenced by what we read, see, and hear and their goal is to make consuming our essential purpose in life.

The basic message promoted of the money makers is that people are incidental to profits. Everything is about money. Greed is good. Fear and violence sell. Truth telling becomes incidental. Exaggeration is the name of the game. People are valuable only as unthinking consumers. And it's working. Ours is an instant gratification culture. Even in our politics the party line is more important than people needs. Just look at our social policies, infrastructure failures, racial and ethnic divides, health care for profit system, immigration policies.... 

Organizations like ALEC make sure that business interests comes first, taxes stay low, the wealthy get preferential treatment, public education is undermined in favor of for profit charter schools, prisons are privatized, labor unions dismantled, pensions privatized or even eliminated, gun sales pre-empt public safety, and lobbyists write legislation and buy elections. Our politics, films, TV programs, and advertisers glorify violence, market fear, promote selfishness and greed. Smart phones are promoted as preferable to face to face interactions. Technology is designed to marginalize people and maximize profits. Instant gratification and simplistic solutions have replaced long range goals and planning. Who cares what we eat if agribusiness and junk food manufactures turn a profit. Just take a pill instead of eating nourishing organic foods or exercising. Ever wonder why we have an addiction problem? And let's ban abortion and birth control while we sell sex as a commodity.

Reality TV and many “news” channels glamorize bullying, rudeness, ideological sound bites, misdirection and half truths. I used to believe Americans were too smart to buy into the advertisers snake oil or what various media companies pass off as news and unbiased reporting, but I'm being proven wrong. After all, brainwashing works and when one is exposed to an idea or celebrity worship long enough one begins to doubt oneself.

Stores track my purchases and tailor coupons to my buying patterns. We are bombarded by telemarketers and scammers. I'm tired of being told what I should buy, want or believe. I'm appalled at the in-civility of our politicians, the petty partisan politics and self interest that pass for leadership.. Perhaps it's time we all rebel by turning off our TV's, curtail our use of smart phones to necessary calls and go visit our family and neighbors instead. In spite of what we are told, life and truth is not always easy, can't be reduced to an ideology, right/wrong dualism, or something we consume. Good decisions flow from studying facts, postponing gratification, practicing gratitude and concern for others.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

Today's Grumble

As an avid reader I've recently immersed myself in historical fiction. What a reminder that the good old days weren't so good after all. Unfortunately, we haven't learned from history yet as we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. When you yearn for “the good old days” just remember that aging and/or being poor was much harder before Roosevelt and social policies such as Social Security. We rightly lament the horrible things ISSIS is doing while forgetting that Christians tortured each other in unimaginable ways during the Inquisition...pouring boiling water poured down people's throats, drawing and quartering, burning people at the stake...

I guess nothing every really changes because human nature hasn't changed. That's why the Bible is still relevant. Jesus famous quote “the poor you will have with you always” recognized that while human greed and selfishness will always be alive and well our selfishness can never be an excuse for not caring about the poor and marginalized. Nor can legislation solve the human nature problem though reasonable regulations can provide some safety checks and balances.

Walking past the waste water treatment plant here in Fairfield I am reminded daily that we are fortunate our federal government require even small municipalities like Fairfield to guarantee its citizens clean drinking water. The same with air pollution. Reading about the early industrial revolution illuminates just how much progress we've made but then John Grisham's GRAY MOUNTAIN is a disheartening reminder of just how much many modern industries such as the coal companies shamefully disregard regulations and pollute the land, water and air endangering everyone.

I am all for capitalism, but without reasonable regulations, greed and self interest will always win out. Which is tragic because in the end, we all sink or swim together. Today's profits can quickly turn into tomorrow's losses when we destroy our environment and impoverish the general public. After all, poor people are not in a position to buy all the unnecessary products mass produced today. And something is woefully wrong when a past president's response to 9'11 was “go shop.”

If I were running for political office I'd create a brand new party called “The Common Sense” party. My platform would be simple, though solutions never are. My platform would advocate setting aside hard line party ideologies in favor of working toward finding common sense solutions. Common sense regulations, common sense salary caps, common sense tax policies, common sense economic, a common sense legal system. While this would not eliminate self interest, it could provides a safe place for negotiation, cooperation, sharing power, benefits and responsibility.

When our kids were small they'd cry “that's not fair” when they couldn't get their way. Well, guess what; life isn't fair. Even so, we humans are capable of working together. It just takes effort and a willingness to actually listen to others as a way to find that much maligned middle ground. What possible good can come out of Pennsylvania's budget impass?  Shutting down the federal government? In the end such stubbornness makes our legislators look like school yard bullies.
Oh well.  Enough. 
Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

The power of forgiveness

Aging is interesting. While my outside parts are showing signs of wear and tear, my insides feel much the same, with a few exceptions, the biggest being I am at peace with myself and the world, and hopefully a bit wiser. While it is true that much goes on in the world that disappoints, hurts, and frightens me, I realize that the only person I have any control over is myself and that whatever positive change starts I hope to effect always starts with me! When I change the way I function and react, others are forced to change as well.

The profound wisdom of the Serenity Prayer has been significant in y life. “God grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time. Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace, Taking this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it...”

Aging has taught me the power of forgiveness, the futility of needing to punish the wrongdoer. Harboring negativity inevitably feels like pouring a cup of poison for my offender and then drinking it myself. Forgiveness frees me to look at what happened through transformed eyes, loosing the cords of mistakes binding me to the past by releasing the strands I hold of others guilt. In the end forgiveness makes my life safer and better by turning my enemies into friends, or at least, non enemies.

A true story illustrating this truth: In the early 60's a Korean family came to New York so their gifted son could study medicine, One evening he was murdered by 3 teen gang members. At their sentencing hearing the devastated parents spoke against the death penalty and lengthy incarceration. Since their son was no longer living, they expected these very boys to pick up the dream they'd destroyed by killing their son. They asked the court's to require the boys finish their high school and get college degrees while incarcerated, and they'd pay any costs incurred. God was asking them to adopt these boys and pour all of their love and resources into the very ones who had killed their son. Anything less than the complete transformation of these boys would make their son's death a tragic waste. When the boys came up for parole they asked to have them released into their care. This they said they needed for their own healing.

And so the miracle of forgiveness began... and continues its work through the years, for this quiet Korean couple visited those boys while incarcerated week after week, year after year. They arranged for their education, counseling and religious training with the courts help. Once the boys were released they took them into their home, claiming them as their sons. By refusing to define the boys according to their past, they helped everyone involved see these broken street thugs through a completely different lens. Today one boy is a doctor who runs a street clinic, another teaches in a ghetto school, and third is a missionary in Korea.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Loose the cords of mistakes and hate binding us as we release the strands of others mistakes. 

Joyce Shut is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.