Friday, September 25, 2015


Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Colossians 3:17

Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men. Colossians 3:23

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. Ephesians 5:1

It's a sure sign of the end of summer: Big Brother has crowned a winner, and Survivor has opened a new season. Best of all, The Amazing Race began tonight. I confess, I'm hooked on these reality shows. Add to these America's Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars and Hell's Kitchen, and you have a pretty good outline of my television viewing habits. You will not find any batchelors/ettes, Kardashians or housewives on my viewing list, however. I have to draw the line somewhere.

The reality shows are sometimes the only tolerable choices for the Christian viewer. At least for someone who only has antenna reception. Even these shows sometimes get on my nerves. I could hardly stand to watch Survivor the two seasons that Russell-jerk was on it. Why in the world didn't they vote him off????

There's something else that bothers me. Every season we can be assured there will be at least one token Christian on each series. I don't know that the producers look at it that way when choosing contestants, but it seems to happen. And every season I cringe at the behavior of the Christians. I remember one Christian mother and daughter team on The Amazing Race who were the most hateful, backstabbing, name-calling people in the race.

Several seasons ago there was a youth worker on Survivor. He played the game just like everyone else - the lies, the backstabs, the broken promises – and in the end when he was asked what the youth in his church would think of how he played the game, he was sure they would understand that this was “just a game,” and how he lived while he played the game was totally separate from his life in the “real” world.

This season of Survivor gives a 2nd chance to players who were previously voted out. On the season opener one Christian contestant said that after the first time she played, people in her church asked her why she didn't play harder, and they've encouraged her to do what she has to do this time around. So she says, “I'll lie and backstab like everyone else, and when it's all done I'll pray for forgiveness.” 

I'm not condemning these contestants. They may be totally committed Christians outside of the games they are playing. I do want to point out that if they (or we) start rationalizing one area of our lives, what's to stop us from doing it in any other area of our lives? Doesn't it give us a license to sin? Can't the spouse now say, I'm going to commit adultery, and then I'll ask for forgiveness? Couldn't the teens watching their youth leader interpret his example to mean, I can cheat when I'm playing football, because it's just a game? Can't people put a little box around their jobs and think if they lie or steal it's okay – that's my work life. It has nothing to do with my life in the “real world.”

I say everything we do IS the real world. Take a look at our focus verses at the top of the page. They say WHATEVER we do . . . Not just what you do at church. Not just what you do at home. Not just what you do when there are other Christians around. WHATEVER you do. The kicker is, of course, the verses that tell us to be imitators of God. Let me hearken back a few years and ask the question: “What Would Jesus Do?”

God didn't give us compartments in our lives, though most people try to create compartments. The Holy Spirit doesn't just dwell in the part of us that wants to live right. He indwells the Christian completely. The problem is, most of us have trouble listening to Him. And if we hear Him, we're even worse at obeying.

There's not just money on the line for participants in reality shows. For the Christian there is also the responsibility to live as Christ commanded us to live. If that means being the first person voted off, so be it. The example you set to a nation in that one episode might be worth more than a million dollars. It might be worth someone's eternal soul.
Not many of us will ever appear on national television, but we have the same responsibility to live our lives for God. Remember the warning Jesus gave to anyone who causes someone to stumble (if you need a reminder it's in Matthew 18:7). Non-christians know we're supposed to be different. In fact, they seem to know how a Christian should live better than we do. They have high expectations of us, and the world loves it when we fail. But as Jesus said, “Woe” to us if our failure, especially when it's deliberate, causes a non-christian to turn from God. And woe to us if it causes a young Christian to be misled to believe that it's okay to sin.
As Christians when we strive to “outwit, outplay, outlast,” we need to remember that we outwit using the Bible's wisdom. We outplay following the Holy Spirit's lead. And we outlast for all eternity.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Flight 93 Memorial Chapel

This is a continuation from last week's Remembering 9/11. This article focuses on the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel near Shanksville, PA.

One month after the crash of Flight 93 near Shanksville, PA, Rev. Alphonse Mascherino, a former priest of the Catholic Church, was looking for a place to build a spiritual memorial to the fallen heroes. He chose Mizpah Lutheran Church, located about 4 miles from the crash site.

Mom's mother and father's gravestone
in the Mizpah Lutheran Church Cemetery.
I have childhood memories of being in the car as Dad drove past the old church, slowing down to get a good look, sometimes stopping to walk around the cemetery. Though we had family five or six miles from the church, to the best of my knowledge it wasn't really on our way to anywhere. Mom and Dad liked to take the scenic route. Mom often talked about how her grandmother would walk a couple of miles every Sunday to attend church there. The accompanying cemetery is the final resting place of many of mom's family. Her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a brother. The names are like an honor roll of my family heritage - the Mostollers, Stutzmans, and of course, Fiegs.

The church opened in 1902 and served a Lutheran congregation for 70 years. Then it was used as a seed warehouse. In recent years it had stood vacant. Vacant and waiting. Waiting for a new sacred purpose.

When news went around that the old church was going to be remodeled into a memorial chapel, we were thrilled. I love history and love to see old buildings with a story to tell repurposed, rather than demolished. Rev. Mascherino worked on the chapel himself, sometimes with the assistance of Boy Scouts or other volunteers. He nickel and dimed it with his own money until donations started coming in.

It was several months before Mom and I were able to visit the chapel, and the first time we met Rev. Mascherino he was in blue jeans and a work shirt. He was charming, charismatic and passionate about the work he was doing. And he loved Mom. No matter how many months went by between visits, he always remembered her and greeted her warmly, usually with a “How are you doing, Sweetheart?” I used to tease her about her “boyfriend.”

His vision was for a non-denominational place where people could come and find spiritual solace as they honored the lives of the 40 people who sacrificed so much. As the one year anniversary of 9/11 drew close, he wasn't sure he would have the chapel ready. Word of his work at the church spread, and people and businesses throughout Western Pennsylvania came together to raise "Thunder Bell" into its tower and to finish the remodel so the public could be received. (There used to be a website that told the many stories associated with the bell, the murals inside the chapel and so many other ways people became involved. I haven't visited that site in many years, and haven't been able to find it. I can only guess that without Rev. Mascherino it was not maintained.)

This was the Reverend's dream. He knew the National Memorial at the crash site would take years to complete. In fact, it took a few years just to agree on the design of the memorial. He wanted something on the ground ready for the public as soon as possible, and the one year anniversary of the crash was a milestone for him.

Over the years, the Boy Scouts and other organizations have placed little memorial gardens on the grounds around the chapel. Every time we went back it seemed something else had been added. My favorite place, however, was the little room just off the foyer of the church that had perpetual candles and photos and histories of each of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. I used to stand in that room surrounded by 40 heroes. I looked at each picture. Read each biography. Wondered what went through their minds during the last ten minutes of their lives. I stood in awe and wondered if I would have had their courage in the face of such an impossible situation.

(Photos of the room and other views of the chapel are available in a 2011 Post-Gazette article. Follow the link to also fine a more complete history of Rev. Mascherino. Note that the goal mentioned in the article of moving the chapel closer to the National Memorial never materialized.)
Flight 93 Memorial Chapel.
Thunder Bell in its tower.
The front right corner is where t
he car struck the building in 2014.

It's been several years since I visited the chapel. I watch the online local newspaper to follow a little of what's happened. In November 2014 there was a tragic car accident at the busy intersection beside the chapel, and a car slammed into the corner of the building where my favorite little room was located. Sadly, one person died in that accident.

Rev. Mascherino himself passed away in 2013. He made provisions before his death, and control of the chapel was turned over to the Catholic Church of the East. There's a new face at the chapel. I'm sure it's being well cared for. Organizations still use the facility. The anniversary of 9/11 is still celebrated. In many ways nothing has changed, but I can't imagine visiting the chapel and not seeing Rev. Mascherino's broad smile and weathered hands outstretched in greeting. He was the chapel's voice, the chapel's vision, the chapel's spirit. In my mind the two will always be intertwined.

If you plan to visit the Somerset area and the Flight 93 National Memorial, I would encourage you to make some time to visit the chapel, as well. It's not far from the National Memorial, but the route from one memorial to the other isn't quite a direct route. You won't regret taking the extra time, however. As I found out as a child, the scenic route is often well worth the trip.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering 9/11

Fourteen years ago this morning the world changed. Most people over the age of 30 can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news about airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center. Today memorial services were held in New York, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, PA, and memorials have been built in those cities, as well as other cities across the country. The entire country was affected, not only because there were passengers on those four airplanes from all over the nation (as well as many from other countries), but because the audacity of the terrorists was so mind-boggling and the results of their actions were so utterly devastating that for a few weeks at least, we as a nation were united.

While the incidents in New York and Washington are usually thought of first when 9/11 is mentioned, and rightly so, the crash of Flight 93 hit me a lot closer to home. Literally closer to home.

I was at work in Somerset, PA that Tuesday morning. Does everyone remember it was a Tuesday? That fact is etched in my brain. The weekend before I had enjoyed The Farmers and Thresherman's Jubilee in my home town of New Centerville. The tractor and truck pulls, antique threshing demonstrations, and lots of good food, the sights and sounds and smells, always took me back to my childhood. Back to a simpler, more carefree time. I always felt sad when I left the Jubilee grounds for the last time late Sunday afternoon.

Two days later I went to work at a social services agency as usual. It was a slow day in the office, and I was just killing time until our 10:00 staff meeting. We had no radio, and I wasn't on the internet, so the first indication I had that something was going on was when Tanya ran into my office and told me that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. My mouth dropped open and two thoughts went through my head. First of all, I had to think for a moment what the WTC was and where it was. "New York" and "skyscrapers" was enough of a mental answer to know this was bad. My second thought was, “This was no accident.” One airplane crashing could be an accident. Two airplanes – no way.

Not too long afterwards rumors started floating around the office that the Pentagon was on fire. It was difficult to get accurate information, but we knew something terrible was happening in our country, and fear was beginning to set in.

Business still had to be conducted, however, so we gathered for our 10:00 meeintg. There were five of us in Diane's office, and our meeting hadn't been going on for more than fifteen minutes when police and fire engine sirens began to wail. Our office was located in between two major highways, and we seemed to be surrounded by sirens and the blaring honk of horns, pushing traffic out of their way. The sirens went on. And on. And on. There was a lull, and then more sirens sounded, as outlying fire departments began to respond. We all looked at each other and said, “WHAT is going on?”

Could these sirens be related to the events happening in New York and Washington, D.C.? Surely not. After all, this was SOMERSET. We were a rural community; probably not on a terrorist's “Top Ten Places to Hit” list. Which led us back to the question: What is going on?

That question was soon answered, though with the same hit-and-miss amount of information as the other attacks. Word went around that a plane had crashed near Shanksville, a sleepy little town less than ten miles away from us. Shanksville? If Somerset wasn't on a terrorist's hit list, I guarantee Shanksville would not be. Details were few and far between. How close to town was the crash? Was anyone killed? The local hospital put in action its emergency plan, calling in all off-duty personnel to prepare for the casualties they expected to receive. But sadly, no casualties came.

And as more questions came than answers, some panic began to set in. There were people who had children in the Shanksville school. Phone lines were overloaded, and in those days most children didn't carry cell phones anyway, so there was no way to contact the school or their children to check on their safety. My friend and co-worker Claudia asked me with fear in her eyes and voice, if the world were ending. I had no children, and I knew my Bible well enough that I didn't think the world was ending, but I still felt the fear and chimed in my voice with those asking to be allowed to leave and go home.

(Speaking of the fear that overtook us, I want to take a moment to remember a dear elderly lady who worked with me as church secretary several years earlier. Marilyn Hay passed away on 9/11. A fact that was probably lost on all but her family and close friends. I've been to her house, and I know that she always had the TV on, and my thoughts on hearing of her death were that she had been frightened by the horrible events she was witnessing and had a heart attack. I don't know that to be true, but it seemed more than a coincidence to me. Regardless, I want to pay tribute to this lovely lady who liked to eat her strawberries “barefoot.”)

We were granted permission to leave work early, and I stopped at a store on my way home. I didn't know how bad this attack would be or if more were coming. and there were a few things I wanted to get. I discovered that we were not the only business closing down early.

Meanwhile, my brother and his wife in Georgia and my niece (7 months pregnant with her first son) and her husband in Arkansas were desperately trying to reach us. All they heard on the news was the crash happened 9 miles from Somerset, PA or 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. Either description could put the crash right on top of our house. After a couple of agonizing hours they were able to get through to us. We weren't able to give them much more information than they already had, other than that we were fine.

I turned the radio on in my car, and listened to the first reports about Flight 93 as I drove home. At this point they didn't know how many passengers were on the plane. They guessed as many as 240 people. That drew a groan out of me. Could all this really be happening right here in Somerset County?

What a contrast to the beautiful weather of that day. I was struck by how clear and blue the sky was. Not a cloud anywhere. Only later did I realize there were also no airplane contrails.

The other piece of information I heard on the radio was the theory that the flight was intended to hit the Capital. Without hesitation I said to the radio, “They brought that plane down. Those people were heroes.”

Flight 93 Memorial Chapel. A privately owned memorial
not far from the crash site. More on this place next week.
As the facts came out, it became clear that 40 people on that flight were indeed heroes. Within days, a temporary memorial was built some distance from the crash site. When the forensics people were finished with the crash area, the temporary memorial was moved within view of the actual crash site. I visited that temporary site often. It was a wall on which visitors from all over the world left little pieces of themselves. A poem, a picture, a message, a cross. Benches were added by donors. Rocks engraved with messages or painted added to landscape. Tens of thousands of items that were left at the memorial have been catalogued and stored.

I haven't been to the new National Memorial. I'm sure it is wonderful, but a part of me wishes it could have remained as the spontaneous expression of a nation's gratitude that the temporary memorial provided.

Once home I found it difficult to leave the television. I watched in horror as the images of the airplanes striking the buildings was played over and over. And then the pictures of the collapsing buildings, the black, billowing clouds of dust that pursued people down the streets of New York. Stories were told of firefighters and law enforcement running into the burning building as others were fleeing. The estimate was given that more than 200 rescue workers had perished in the collapse of the buildings. It was overwhelming. I felt I should cry. Surely if any situation deserved tears, this one did. But tears would not come. The pain and the horror were too deep even for tears.

It's hard to believe that this present generation, children in elementary and middle school, were not even alive in 2001. They have no memory of life before 9/11 – before long lines in airport TSA checkpoints. Before heightened terror alerts. Before metal detectors in courthouses and other public buildings. The only memories they will have of the tragedy of that day are the ones we impart to them. We must share our stories. We must make sure they know and remember the heroes of Flight 93,
the hundreds of firemen and police officers who gave their lives in the line of duty, the children who have grown up without a father or mother or grandparent, the spouses robbed of a loved one, and the parents who have lived in loneliness after the loss of a son or daughter.

We must tell them, and we must never forget.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Dwire Family Labor Day

Monday is Labor Day. It's a day off from work and school, but what else is it? We think of it as the unofficial end of summer. Tons of Labor Day sales, almost as bad as black Friday. A chance for one final camping trip. NFL football season begins (finally!!)

I think we all have mixed feelings about the holiday. We love the three-day weekend, but it also marks the downhill trend towards winter. But does anyone even think about the “labor” part of the day? Its creation was encouraged by leaders of the some of the Labor Unions. After some unfortunate labor strikes during which the government sent in troops and a lot of people were killed, President Cleveland made the holiday officially the 1st Monday of September. Thanks, Wiki for the info. And that explains why (yawn!) we don't think about the “labor” part of the day.

My family didn't either. It was just another day, and on the farm that meant every day was a labor day. One Labor Day, about 25 years ago, however, changed all that. In one 24-hour period, a new story was added to the Dwire family mythology. It's a story that regularly comes up at family get-togethers. In fact, it's right up there with the story about my youngest niece sleeping in the doghouse - literally.

If you were looking for a devotional tonight, I should warn you that try as I might I just couldn't come up with a “moral of the story,” so you'll have to take it for its entertainment value only.

There was a cow. (Yes, it's another cow story. Sorry, it's part and parcel of my life. But I think you'll find there's more human interest here, than cow interest.) This particular cow was a long-legged black and white holstein steer. My brother was no longer operating a dairy farm, and the bulk tank in the milk house stood empty. He did have a couple of beef cattle, and this unnamed steer was among them. This steer was so tall he could just about step over the barbed wire fence. A fact which he discovered on the day in question. He also discovered that the grass is greener on the other side.

I'm not sure when the chase began. I do remember that a long-legged steer runs a lot faster than a human. He ran around the outside of the pasture. He stepped over the fence and continued to run inside the pasture. When we thought we had him back in captivity, he stepped over the fence and ran outside the pasture – again.

At this point my brother decided that since he couldn't keep the steer in the pasture he would try to get him in the barn and stable him there until the weather got cold. That probably requires an explanation. You see, we did our own butchering. So we needed to have cold weather so the carcass could be hung in the garage a day or two to get chilled. Here we were walking - or rather running - around on this Labor Day with no coats on. It didn't qualify as a cold day.

We proceeded with my brother's plan to herd this recalcitrant animal into the barn. Or at least we tried. Someone forgot to inform the steer about our plans. It would have been a cozy gig in the barn – no more nights in the rain. No sleeping on muddy ground. Plenty of food and water with very little effort. Unfortunately, he had not been briefed on these benefits and continued to elude capture.

Two members of Somerset County's Tractor Buddies
 - a group of intrepid tractor drivers who have figured
out how to make them square dance.
They do not, however, jump creeks.
It was a hopeless quest. In desperation we got out the tractors. My brother was on one, and I was on the other trying to keep pace with this racehorse. However, tractors don't spin on a dime, and they can't step over fences or jump creeks, although for a few minutes I was certain my brother was going to try.

It wasn't long after that near fiasco that my brother threw up his hands and said, “Go get the gun.”

Cold weather or no cold weather. We were about to butcher this steer. My apologies to any vegans out there. It's a fact of farm life. It's what you see in the meat department of the grocery store, we just did it for ourselves. Don't worry, I won't go into the gruesome details. In fact, after the chase was over, there are only a few details that I remember.

One had nothing to do with the cow. My brother told me to get Dad's truck. It was an old GMC. No power steering. Standard transmission. And while I had driven it many times in the past, this day I was under duress. I tried to drive between the barn and the corn crib, pushed in the clutch to change gears and found myself sliding on wet grass into the corner of said corn crib. It did only a little damage, but I didn't tell anyone about my mishap for several days.

The great dilemma we faced was what to do with two halves of beef in warm weather. How could we possibly chill them and keep them cold until we were able to process the meat? It occurred to me that there was a big, empty bulk tank in the milk house. It was meant to chill milk, but could it be used to chill meat? There followed a frantic few hours cutting the meat into pieces that would fit into five-gallon buckets. The buckets went into the bulk tank, partly full of very cold water. Problem solved.

The days following would be spent processing the meat. Cutting steaks, grinding hamburger, canning some of it, but the labor of those days are long since forgotten. What we remember is the adventure of coming together as a family to find a solution to a long-legged problem. And I guarantee, sometime during this Labor Day weekend, someone in the family will mention it!

You know what, I was wrong. There is a moral to this story. And it's about family. It's about valuing the time you spend with your family. Time spent NOT using some electronic device or updating your social status. It's about making a family memory. Even one as outlandish as our Dwire Family Labor Day.