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Friday, June 29, 2012

Hope for PA Dutch Culture

With attendance waning, organizers of the Berks County Fersommling worry that the area's young are abandoning their Pennsylvania Dutch cultural heritage.That's a valid concern, but Frank Kessler offers some hope that the culture is holding its own in Berks County. 
Kessler, who's president of the German-Pennsylvanian Association in Germany, sees some positive trends in census data. In 2007, for the first time, Berks replaced Lehigh as the county claiming the largest number of Pennsylvania Dutch.While the number of Pennsylvania Dutch dialect speakers declined in other Pennsylvania counties, Kessler observed, Berks bucked the trend.
"In Berks, the number of dialect speakers has risen slightly," Kessler said in a recent email. He cites two reasons: Berks is a major hub for Pennsylvania Dutch events and it hosts a large Old Order Mennonite population.
The Kutztown Folk Festival, which opens its 63rd run tomorrow, has certainly played a role in preserving Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.Thanks largely to the visionary scholars who started the festival in 1950 - Alfred L. Shoemaker, Don Yoder and J. William Frey of Franklin & Marshall College - the nine-day event has become the longest-running folklife festival in America.
Not to be overlooked is the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University. The center, now under the direction of Dr. Robert W. Reynolds, has amassed an extensive cultural library and a collection of Berks County farm life artifacts. Its recent release of Patrick J. Donmoyer's translation of "The Friend in Need," Johann Georg Homan's classic treatise on folk healing, has opened a new chapter for the center in publishing.
Teachers of the Pennsylvania German dialect, including Francis D. Kline of Robesonia and Ed Quinter of Allentown, are passing on the language to a new generation. And the region's Grundsau lodges, Granges and groups that hold fersommlings, each in their own way, contribute to keeping the culture alive.  
The Pennsylvania German Hour, which recently observed its 30th anniversary on BCTV, broadcasts hymns sung in the dialect by a choir whose family roots go back 300 years.
A lot of people sharing the same ideal, it seems, are working toward the same end. After all, isn't that what a culture is?
Ron Devlin, Reading Eagle columnist

Monday, June 25, 2012


My family's Burkholder reunion is held the day before Easter. My brother Merle and his family are almost always absent because of the distance. This weekend Merle, Edith, and daughter Bethanie were in the area so we hosted an extra mini-Burkholder reunion here. It was good to have all five of us siblings at the same place at the same time. Some of our children and grandchildren joined us. Twenty-six people were here for lunch and some more came in the afternoon. We had a good time renewing acquaintances, rehearsing old stories, etc. The memories and interests we have in common are the ties that bind us together.
Here we are (with spouses) lined up by age. Betty Ann, yours truly, Lester, Merle, Carol.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gifts In A Nutshell

Summer officially began this week and brought with it typical summer weather and a week of Summer Bible School. Our church is not air conditioned and we have sweltered through so many weeks of Bible School in June that it just seems heat and Bible School go together.
The theme this year was Spiritual Gifts. The Bible School leaders had some creative ideas to illustrate on the children's level the principles of using our gifts and working together. The theme verse was "God gave us spiritual gifts so we can help each other." The adult teacher gave us a list of spiritual gifts broken down into three categories. He described what each one is and how it can be used. Here is the outline:

Miraculous Gifts
apostle, tongues, interpretation, miracles, healing
Enabling Gifts
faith, discernment, wisdom, knowledge
Team (Task Oriented) Gifts
evangelism, prophecy, teaching, exhortation, pastor/shepherd, showing mercy, helps/serving, giving, government

The gifts most of us have are in the last two categories. The enabling gifts help us exercise the team gifts. Most of us have at least one or two dominant gifts with lesser amounts of the other gifts. The team gifts we practice may change with the circumstances in our lives. We can develop lesser gifts by using the small amount we have and building on it. The methods we use to exercise these gifts can vary greatly. If you don't use it you lose it. We were challenged to use whatever gifts we have for the Lord and the building of His church. God gave us spiritual gifts so we can help each other.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Signings

This has been an interesting weekend. The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society arranged three book signings for my newest book on Friday. I spoke and signed books at Landis Homes in the morning. About twenty-five people showed up for that one. I met an old friend there I haven't seen for at least thirty years.
I repeated the talk in the afternoon at the Muddy Creek Farm Library. I was surprised when seventy people showed up for that one. The questions and discussion after my talk was different at each place but good questions were asked at both places. I don't know how many copies of Aaron's Civil War were sold there but I signed a lot of them!
The third book signing of the day was held at the historical society in the evening. The crowd there was smaller and the discussion that followed was different but just as interesting as at the other two places. It was a long day but I enjoyed meeting and talking to all the people who came out.
Since some of Aaron's story takes place in Snyder County, the Snyder County Historical Society asked me to attend one of their events today. I do not sell books on Sunday so they had a copy on display and order blanks with information on how to obtain a copy of the book. It wasn't actually a book signing but a few books people brought books they had purchased earlier for me to sign.
This dear couple drove eighty miles to meet me and have their books signed. She read Aaron's Civil War and liked it so well she bought all six of my other books and is in the process of reading them.
Other authors were there with their books. The fellow standing in the middle of the room has written about a half dozen small books on the Indians and their way of life. He was entertaining us with Indian stories.
I was reminded of a quote I read somewhere that went something like this. "You will always be the same except for the books you read and the people you meet." I met some interesting people this weekend and made some new friends. My life has been broadened and enriched.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Valley Forge

Our family got together yesterday for Family Day. Our pattern has been to alternate between going to the cabin for a weekend one year and doing a one-day sightseeing trip the next year. There have been a few variations along the way but this was the year to do a day trip. Several years ago we planned to go to Valley Forge and were rained out. It's only about 80 minutes from here and a place I always wanted to see but never had. I still wanted to go there, so that was our chosen destination for yesterday. And this time the weather cooperated beautifully. 
We got CDs to play in our vehicles as we took a self-guided tour of the Valley Forge National Park. It was much cheaper than the trolley and we followed the same route. The CD helped us know what we were seeing so we could try to visualize what it was like to live there in the winter of 1777.
George Washington's army of 12,000 lived in 2000 log huts they built in the freezing weather. Although the original huts disappeared long ago, some replicas have been erected in scattered locations around the park. They were crude but at least provided a roof over their heads. As many as twelve men lived in these small huts.

George Washington lived in a tent until the men were housed in log cabins and then rented this house where he wintered with his wife and other officers. People came and went constantly but sometimes as many as twenty people were living here, eating and sleeping wherever they could find a space.

General Varnum lived in this house. It was built in the 1720s and is the oldest structure in the park.

The men who spent the winter at Valley Forge suffered from hunger, cold, and disease which resulted in about 3,000 deaths. Lack of food and proper sanitation resulted in many deaths from starvation, pneumonia, typhus, and dysentery. Those with contagious diseases were moved to hospitals off the premises. One of these was in the Ephrata Cloister.
The youngest member of the family was not impressed with his historical surroundings and slept through some of it.
After we finished the tour we came back here for a cookout and evening of visiting and reminiscing. The homemade ice cream and burgers were delicious. 

The Revolutionary War is a part of our history and changed the course of our nation but, contrary to what is taught in the history books, it was not supported by the majority of Americans. It was a war brought on by the aristocrats seeking to protect their interests. The majority of the common people would have been satisfied to remain under English rule. Most of the soldiers were not fighting for the great cause of freedom from oppression but joined the army for personal benefits---the promise of good pay, a way to reduce the seven years of indentured service required to pay for their passage to America, etc. The Hessians (Germans) were hired and imported specifically to fight for the Americans. 
The Mennonites found themselves in a difficult position during the Revolutionary War. Their historic doctrine of nonresistance prohibited them from joining the army. But refusal to do so branded them as Tories. They believed it was their duty to obey and pay taxes to the government but the Revolution was rebellion to authority. Additionally, when they immigrated they promised to be loyal to the king who was the authority at the time. Now they were suddenly being told they need to break that promise and be loyal to a rebel government. They could not conscientiously do this. They were caught in the struggle between the two sides. They wanted to obey the government but were unable to tell which side would win and therefore did not know who was their "Ceasar."
The Mennonites provided humanitarian aid to soldiers on both sides of the conflict. They provided food, blankets, and supplies to the hungry and naked men in Washington's army and helped to nurse the sick who were taken to the Ephrata Cloister. But they also provided lodging and food for British prisoners of war and helped them return to their units in Philadelphia and New York. For these actions, some Mennonites were jailed and some were taxed into bankruptcy. 
For a better understanding of the political situation at the time of the Revolutionary War, I recommend you read David Bearcot's book,  In God We Don't Trust. This book peels away the layers of myth that have been wrapped around the Revolutionary War and exposes the truth of the situation. While it may have been God's plan for the United States of America to become an independent nation, the same results could have been achieved without fighting a war that cost 50,000 lives. Other nations that were in the British Empire and gained independence did so by negotiations. America could have done the same but (to put it simply) went ballistic over a three-cent tax on tea that resulted in a lot of blood being shed unnecessarily.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Day in June

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer's lowing,
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!

Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,
'Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season's youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.