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Thursday, December 1st, 2016
6:46 am - Crying wolf
Are hate crimes on the rise these days? The news these days is full of incidents of ugly things said and done by Trump supporters. Letters to the editor telling Muslims that they are about to be treated as the Jews were under Hitler, swastikas and ugly words painted on black churches, a lady refusing to pay for a shopping bag while shouting "Trump won!" (neener neener neener) -- the list goes on. Progressives on social media exercise their outrage each time, solemnly warning us of the incipient fascism we are facing.

Several things need to be said.

First, obviously, each and every one of these incidents is deplorable. There is no justification for expressions of hate or contempt toward our fellows. Vandalism is never okay. And nobody is owed anything, just because one's candidate has won an election.

But, second: are these incidents actually on the rise? Remember, during the Reagan and elder Bush administrations, the news was full of stories on homelessness. We were in a national crisis of homelessness, apparently. It was suggested -- nay, sometimes outright claimed -- that the increase in homelessness was directly caused by the economic policies of the Republicans in power. Oh, those nasty Repubs! Well, Bill Clinton apparently solved the problem in a single day: January 20, 1993. For on the day of his inauguration, the news simply stopped carrying stories on homelessness. Did homelessness disappear? No, but the news media doesn't carry many such stories when their guy is in power. So, I have to ask: are incidents of hate increasing, or are they suddenly just being reported more because the news media think they're newsworthy now that a Trump presidency is on the horizon?

And, third: for those paying attention these last few years, there has been a low rumble of these kinds of incidents all along. And a not inconsiderable number of them have turned out to be hoaxes, perpetrated by those claiming to be the targets of the hate. The follow-up stories revealing the hoaxers don't get quite the splash as the original incident reports. How many of the incidents now being reported will turn out to have been perpetrated by progressives? And will that make a difference to the number of these stories being reported or the way they're covered?

Finally: while I don't ever condone expressions of payback, in some of these cases I'm willing to cut people some slack. The expressions of hate and contempt directed toward ordinary Americans by progressives is one of the big stories of this election. From the original Tea Party Patriots of a few years ago being maligned with homosexual slurs about "teabagging" to Hillary Clinton's calling Trump supporters "a basket of deplorables," the Left has felt free to indulge in all kinds of ugly rhetoric toward their opponents. So their sanctimony about ugly rhetoric now doesn't move me much. Hate breeds hate, contempt excites contempt. I don't say it's okay, but I'm not surprised at some of the things I've seen said and done by those on the winning side; indeed, I'm surprised at how little of that there's been.

Expect to see many, many stories about hate and fascism in the years ahead. The news media and the grievance industry (but I repeat myself) will beat this drum for all it's worth. Which doesn't mean that there's never something that needs rebuking in our society; it just means that the low smoulder of trash fires that goes on all the time will be reported as catastrophic forest fires caused by Trump supporters playing with matches.

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Wednesday, November 30th, 2016
2:53 pm - In which I offend pretty much everybody
When I was digging the Christmas stuff out of the upstairs walk-in closet, I found a half dozen gallon jugs of distilled water, unopened. I asked Deanne why she kept including water on our grocery list when we had all this water, and she replied that that had been set by for emergencies. You know, tornadoes, earthquakes, zombie apocalypses. Deanne is a bit of a survivalist at heart, a trait I find more often among men of my internet acquaintance. Indeed, I've always seen that as quintessentially a male trait -- nay, a husband and father trait. "Protect the women and children! Keep the family safe in a crisis!"

Meanwhile, women's tin-foil hat tendencies incline more often toward exotic diets, purges, holistic health, and so on. "Have you had a bowel movement today, Honey?" In their extreme form, they reach unto anti-vaxer weirdness. Oh, I know men who get into this sort of thing, but it still seems more common among women to me. Why? Maybe it's a Mom sort of thing. Mothers are supposed to take care of their children, and always know what's best for them. So the health obsessions and fads are kind of an assertion of the superior knowledge of Everymom against the bullying of doctors. "How dare those men in white lab coats make me feel inadequate? What do they know?"

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Tuesday, November 29th, 2016
1:38 pm - The rising of the sun and the running of the deer
It's been a while since I've posted about our stained glass window progress. I've been fine-grinding and fitting a bunch of pieces the youth had cut but hadn't time to fiddle with. I've also been recruiting some new kids to help with the project. Some were too young to help when we began this two years ago; others are Scouts and their sibs who find themselves at loose ends during meetings.

This is the third of the four windows we're constructing. It has a Creation theme expressed through animals. I'm hoping that it will reach completion over New Year's. Then there's just one more window -- the one with people in it, expressing our relationship with Christ. If all goes well, we'll switch to carpentry about Easter and start constructing the frames these windows will go in.

This project's design was from my 2014 Confirmation Class: Harrison, Mason, and Logan. They're the ones who insisted there had to be a lamb and a cat in this window. I convinced them that the stag would be important for an Indiana window. In the original design, the cat was stalking the bird, but some adults in the church got the vapors over that image (I tried to tell them that the cat would never catch the bird, since neither was ever going to move, but oh well), so we moved the bird down next to the deer and put a little mouse in the corner to go nose-to-nose with the cat.

window progress

Window progress
The stag is slowly making his appearance

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Sunday, November 27th, 2016
8:17 am - Meanwhile, in the spare bedroom
Hera spent half the night in my arms. When I got up to go to the bathroom, she took herself off somewhere else. As I was putting my tie on this morning, I discovered just where she had gone. Somehow, she managed to get all snuggled down in this blanket, which is on the bed in the spare bedroom. She looks very comfy.

Snuggle kitty

Snuggle kitty
Wut?

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Saturday, November 26th, 2016
2:40 pm - The Wordsmith's Forge
My newsletter column for December

We read in the Gospel of Matthew that the wise men came from the East searching for the newborn king of the Jews. They said they had seen his star, and so had come to worship him. Speculations about the Star of Bethlehem abound. Exactly what the wise men saw and how they determined its meaning, within their tradition of astrological interpretation, can’t be completely pinned down now. As a stargazer myself, I understand enough about the motions of the planets and the precession of the equinoxes and all that to make some sense of it, but I wouldn’t go so far as to insist on my theory.

But I know how I feel when I’m out on a cold, clear night, and all the stars of heaven are burning like jewels laid on a cushion of black velvet: I feel moved to pray. They are so beautiful. I worship the Creator of such beauty. And they are the same stars that moved me when I looked up in wonder at them as a boy. I have grown old, but they are still the same. I feel renewed to feel as I felt then, and they give me a glimpse of eternity. I don’t look to the stars for meaning; that is, I don’t think they foretell anything, you can’t predict the future by them. But that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.
The heavens are telling the glory of God
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4b)
The stars speak of to me of the power of God, of his beauty, of his holiness. They testify to his love for his creation, including me. And when I remember that he who made all things — the stars, and me — also became part of his creation, a helpless baby, in order to redeem it from futility, from sin, and from death — well, then I am moved to worship him and lay myself at his feet for an offering. I find peace when I talk to my Lord under his stars.

At this time of year, I particularly seek to go out and see the stars for the purpose of worship. And if you are disposed to see patterns in the stars, I would recommend you do this, too. The constellation Cygnus (the Swan), who flies across the skies all summer, at the beginning of winter stands on its nose and assumes the form of a gigantic cross of jewels. The bright star Deneb, normally the Swan’s tail, is now the head of the cross. If you go out on a clear night around Christmas Eve, you will see this cross in the northwest, just above the horizon about 9:00 o’clock.

It’s not exactly what the Magi saw, but you too, will be able to say that you have seen God’s testimony in the stars.
— ART

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2:06 pm - O Christmas Tree
So, I put up the tree yesterday to see if Hera would leave it alone overnight. She did, so today I dragged out all the ornaments. Oy, veh, have we got ornaments. We gave away a good third of them fifteen years ago when Anna started her own household, but we've kept on buying more ornaments (for the grandcubs -- yeah, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it). For the last few years, we didn't put up a full-sized tree, since Hera and Lightning wouldn't leave it alone. One forgets just how much Christmas junk there is in one's closets.

I started unpacking ornaments and laying them out. I couldn't find the angel to put on top of the tree, so I sorta went with the idea of a "concept tree." Here's the beginning of a couple with different toppers.

Victorian Tree

Victorian Tree
The top hat adds a bit of distinction to the old tree, don't you think?

Voyageur Tree

Voyageur Tree
On the other hand, the red of this voyageur's bonnet brightens up the tree considerably.

The angel was in the second box of Christmas stuff I brought down. So, on with the lights we went. Heavy and/or unbreakable ornaments on first, down below. Lighter and more delicate ornaments as we ascend. Last of all, lots of little glass balls from my parents' trees, all over.

Eclectic Tree

Eclectic Tree
No single concept, just Christmas Overload

Ooh, shiny

Ooh, shiny
Natural light - no flash - brings out all the gauzy, glittering charm.

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Thursday, November 24th, 2016
2:21 pm - Stuffed
Well, our Thanksgiving feed was simple but filling. To begin with, I made my Christmas Hash with potatoes, apples, and fennel. I also realized that I should have cut the recipe in half. This is a 16" cast iron skillet full of hash. I created the recipe for a crowd, and there were only three of us. Hmmm . . .

This ought to settle your hash

This ought to settle your hash
Lots of leftovers

I also made Chicken and Dumplings for the first time, and did all kinds of things wrong. I mean, it turned out okay, but it was definitely a learning process. I roasted the chicken instead of stewing it, for instance, which is definitely an extra step. This is also the first time I've ever made dumplings (pillow-style, not noodle-style). They're basically a pate a choux kind of thing. Gnocchi and spaetzle are in the same family. I followed Alton Brown's recipe and made the hole in piping bag quarter-sized; I think I should've made it dime-sized. Trying to figure out how to translate this to 500 servings for the Winter Rendezvous.

Dumplings by Mae West

Dumplings by Mae West
And they want this over mashed potatoes at the Rendezvous . . . weird.

Thank goodness that the Pumpkin Pie was already made. This came from the batch made by our Venturers last weekend. Glad to know that it came out magnificent as always. The filling was light and delicious, and the crust -- which Deanne had been worried about -- flaky and soft. When my friend Beth Ann posted about this pie, she made up the Twitter hashtag #noordinarypie.

A perfect pumpkin pie

A perfect pumpkin pie
Come, ye thankful people, come

Here's hoping your feast was delicious and your table surrounded by love.

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Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016
2:30 pm - A little bit of me is missing
Well, the tooth is out and gone. Quick and painless. Still, it seems strange. My parents taught me to take care of my teeth. They invested so much in braces, and then I invested so much in regular dental visits, fillings, crowns, even the odd root canal. I've spent so much time in the dentist's chair getting teeth fixed, and this took a couple of minutes, tops, after the novocaine took effect.

To simply give up on a tooth comes hard. Oh, I could have gotten an implant. I can even afford it, though the price would be steep. Steeper than I want to pay, especially when there are other things I need the money for. But at my age, the cost:benefit ratio indicated that the smart move was just to yank the thing and be done with it. In the end, destruction is cheaper and easier than redemption.

Driving home, I thought about this. I thought about the benefits of war vs. the benefits of peace: war gives you full employment and full production, but at the cost of tremendous destruction and loss of life and limb. And I thought about relationships. How many people give up on marriages that might have been salvageable, but who declined to pay the cost in time and effort and aggravation necessary to make it work? Easier to just dump the person you can't figure out how to live with and move on.

And yet, even when a decision to end something you previously valued seems like the best alternative, it still leaves a hole behind, a permanent gap in your jaw/life. The idea that you can dump something -- or somebody -- and be better off, with no permanent effects, is folly. There's a cost to everything. Every good and bad thing in your life leaves a mark on your soul. And too many people live their lives as if they can keep starting over without penalty, while all the time leaving all kinds of ugly marks on their souls. And then, one day, they wake up and realize what they've lost. I once knew a guy who had a full set of dentures at age thirty, because he never took care of his teeth as a kid. Living with dentures for the rest of your life may be an acceptable cost when you're sixty -- but when you're thirty?

I see churches doing the same sort of thing. They neglect the important stuff. They carry on stupid feuds. They withhold from each other the joy of salvation. They put off the stuff they know needs to be done. And they think, at some future point X, when I'm ready, or so-and-so is gone, or the kids are grown, or whatever -- then, then, we'll really get things going. But time moves on, and though Christ is ever-faithful, sometimes you can't do what you were always going to get around to do. And there's no going back.

Sure, sometimes it makes more sense to pull the tooth than to try to fix it or replace it. But we go to that option too easily, too often. There are things worth fighting for, and worth fixing, no matter what the cost.

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Monday, November 21st, 2016
4:17 pm - Be it ever so humble
Went shopping this afternoon for some groceries. I didn't figure that things would be too crazy; after all, it's only Monday of Thanksgiving week. I figured wrong, though I'm sure it'll be crazier each day.

Walmart was jammed with shoppers. Listening to a couple of people talking on their cell phones, checking recipes, I realized that it wasn't just a matter of people entertaining large groups, which they rarely do any more. No, I think there's a whole bunch of people who just don't cook any more, except at holiday time. I mean, the rest of the year, they mostly heat-and-eat, or maybe slap some chili together or grill hot dogs and burgers. But Thanksgiving requires actual, composed meals, with The Bird, and potatoes, and 2-3 traditional side dishes, honest-to-God rolls, and several desserts. It's the culinary equivalent of a pilgrimage to the top of Mt. Fuji.

Our Thanksgiving will be a low-key affair. Anna and family are stuck in Richmond, since Brian has to work. Zach will probably be here, but go home Thursday evening. I bought the fixin's to make some sausage gravy and scratch biscuits at some point in the festivities, as well as a whole chicken, with which I intend to attempt Chicken and Dumplings.

I'd like to go spend a day or two in the holler, but things around here need a bunch of cleaning and setting to rights for what minimal Christmas hoopla we are taking part in. So, I'm not sure if I'm even going to the woods this weekend. Maybe I'll just sleep in.

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Saturday, November 19th, 2016
3:27 pm - When the Moon hits your eye like a big pumpkin pie, that's amore
It's a busy weekend here at EFUMC. Consecration Sunday is tomorrow. Some of our Scout hikers put in a 10-miler this morning. I saw them off as I was firing up the ovens for the Venturers' pie sale.

Our happy Crew gathered last night and cranked out 40 pie crusts, give or take. This morning, we assembled the fillings for and baked 14 pecan pies, 12 apple pies, 13 pumpkin pies, and 3 pumpkin puddings (no crust). We learned that the expression "as easy as pie" is a dirty lie. And we learned that calculating π by hand is a real chore.

The pies came out looking wondermous. We used a mix of Granny Smiths, Fujis, Galas, and Pink Ladies in the apple pies. The pumpkin for our pies was cooked fresh by us and frozen ahead of time, not canned. Even the pie dough we made from scratch, using the old Never Fail Pie Crust recipe Deanne grew up with, that uses real lard, eggs, and vinegar. Yep, we're Old School. Ah, well, I always was kind of a crusty old sort.

As we were leaving this afternoon, the Scouts were coming in to do the prep for tomorrow's Consecration Sunday luncheon. They're whomping up Minestrone, Chicken Alfredo, and Italian Love Cake. More power to 'em.

Easy as pie, my Granny Smith

Easy as pie, my Granny Smith
T.C. and Lori peeling apples

Clean as you go

Clean as you go
Deanne wipes down a counter

Calculating pie to 40 places

Calculating pie to 40 places
3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971

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Sunday, November 13th, 2016
8:44 pm - United Methodist Doctrinal Standards
General Conference has asked each Charge Conference, beginning next year, to say what steps it has taken to present and explain our UM Doctrinal Standards. This is a good thing. Many United Methodists are not aware that we even have doctrinal standards, or what they are.

I have just finished a six-week short course in an adult Sunday School class, explaining where United Methodist doctrine and practice comes from, and how our standards have evolved. Herewith are my teaching outlines from each of these classes, for the benefit of others who might be interested in doing something of the same sort.

One quirk of my approach: Rather than beginning with four (five) documents themselves -- the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Confession of Faith of the EUB Church, John Wesley's Standard Sermons, John Wesley's Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, and the General Rules of our United Societies -- and then giving the backstory on all of them, I chose to explain the English Church Tradition beginning from earliest times, then taking them through the Reformation and the beginnings of Methodism, so that we ended up with the standards we have.Collapse )

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8:03 pm - Sermon Series: Pulled In Every Direction
Final sermon: "Concerning the offering"

1 Corinthians 16

Today’s sermon concludes the series I’ve been preaching on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. In a long and sometimes confrontational letter, Paul dealt with that church’s tendency to divide into factions, with matters of morality and custom that tend to break down along lines of different cultures, with the conduct of worship and the foundational doctrine of resurrection and eternal life. And then he comes at last to matters of housekeeping – comings and goings and the handling of money. He says,
Now concerning the contribution for the saint: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of the week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. (16:1-4)
Now, this offering Paul was getting up amongst the Corinthians was a contribution for the relief of the poor among the Christians in Judea. A few years earlier, during one of the famines that happened under the Emperor Claudius, when Paul was at Antioch, the church there had sent gifts for famine relief with Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem. James and Peter thanked them very much, and approved of Paul’s opening to the Gentiles – but urged him, no matter how far afield his ministry might take him, to continue to remember the poor, especially the poor among the believers in Judea.

Paul was very eager to do this, and so it became a regular part of his ministry - this sharing of love by means of an offering for the poor, believers in one place assisting believers in another place, just because they shared the same faith. So, this offering was not merely a good turn, but a re-affirmation of the bonds of fellowship among the churches as well. What I’m getting at is that it wasn’t a one-off, not a sometime thing. It was a regular part of the work Paul was doing in Corinth and Galatia and Ephesus and everywhere else he had contacts.

And it wasn’t as simple as it would be today. You have to remember that they didn’t have checks or credit cards back then. If you were going to send a gift of money from one place to another, it was going to come in the form of so many little pieces of metal. It was heavy, and it was easy to steal. Which is why you needed a large entourage to safely deliver it – which Paul refers to here in v. 3, when he talks about the people accredited by the Corinthians to carry their gift to Jerusalem.

Let me drive this point home in another way. We’ve just come through a general election. Political experts talk about a candidate’s “campaign war chest” as the amount of money that candidate has available to buy advertising, hire staff, conduct polls, and so on. In the ancient world, when an army went on campaign – a military campaign - it carried a literal war chest: a huge, wooden box bound with iron and with several locks. This box was full of money to fund the army’s operations while in the field. Only the commander and his praefectus fabrum – his quartermaster – had access to it. It traveled with its own company of armed guards and was usually stored in the commander’s own tent. If your campaign war chest ran out, you had only the supplies on your persons and in your wagons, and when those were gone, your army couldn’t move or fight any more.

Merchants also carried a lot of money with them on trade tours. Which is why they hired armed guards and traveled in large caravans. Moving large amounts of cash around was not easy in the 1st Century. It shows the importance the leadership in all the churches attached to this ministry, that they spent so much time and energy organizing it, accounting for it, shipping it safely, and then dispensing it.

What I’m saying is that “missions” has always been part of the Church’s work – and so has encouraging people to give as they are able to such things, and to give regularly and sacrificially. Note where Paul says in v. 2, "On the first day of the week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper . . ."

Nor was this kind of relief offering for the saints in Judea unusual. The Church had been doing this kind of thing locally for its entire existence. The earliest church had many people who sold off all their possessions and donated them to the Church to get it started, with the finances being supervised by the apostles. When that got too complicated, they still kept up the work of supporting those who had few means of their own. Each local church maintained a large number of persons with gifts – mostly in kind (allowances of food and drink and so on), but probably also with some cash now and then.

In this letter, Paul refers to them in the passage on marriage. Remember when we talked about “enrolling widows who are real widows” – meaning women who are not interested in marrying again, and who also don’t have any family to support them? Well, the Church enrolled them by putting them on a list of people to be supported from the whole church’s contributions. This is still done in Africa, where “widows' work” is an important part of the local ministry. There was no “social safety net,” and if you didn’t have a family, and you couldn’t get a job, you were helpless. So, the church helped as it could, and it did it regularly.

It supported orphans, both directly and by arranging foster care and adoptions. Up until the 20th Century, this has always been something we have done. Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s congregation in 19th Cent England founded and supported several orphanages. When a minister of another group criticized Spurgeon, rather than debate him on doctrinal terms, he challenged him and his congregation to a contest of good works, saying, “the God who answers by orphanages, let him be God.”

The church helped with dowries, with food and assistance in times of unemployment. It helped square escaping slaves with the law, and sometimes helped buy their freedom. Almost 300 yrs after Paul wrote 1st Corinthians, Nicholas of Myra – St. Nicholas, our Santa Claus – was noted for his aid to the poor, to girls without dowries, and to children. Well, Nicholas was a wealthy man, but more important, he was a bishop, and a great deal of what a bishop did was dispensing church funds to help the poor – especially the poor among the members of the church.

We have few other references to offerings, whether special or regular, in the early church, but it’s obvious that they were receiving and using a significant amount of money, contributed regularly and sacrificially by the members. And even though they didn’t have any real estate of their own in the 1st Century – no official church buildings - that didn’t mean there were no expenses for those early congregations to look after. They might be meeting in premises donated for their use by a rich member, as an extension of Christian hospitality, but that just means somebody made a pretty significant in-kind gift of the use of his or her house. And while Paul refused any material support or salary for his work, lest anyone say he was only doing what he did for gain, nevertheless in this letter, he defends the church giving material or monetary support to church leaders. They didn’t quite have a paid staff yet, but they were headed in that direction – and the money for that would have to be found from somewhere.

What I’m getting at is that at no time, ever, was the Church like a hobby group meeting in somebody’s basement, where the only support to be arranged was who was going to bring the snacks this week. Sometimes people get a romantic notion that the early Church was just like a home Bible study or an old-fashioned Methodist class meeting, where the only thing being exchanged around the room is love and prayer.

This overlooks the fact that all successful long-term Bible studies tend to build relationships in which people offer each other a lot of tangible support – like food when someone is sick - because that’s how you show love in practical terms. And also, sooner or later, the group will start doing little projects together to support causes they care about. Meanwhile, Wesley’s instructions to the original class leaders included having them account for the gifts saved up and presented by their class members each week, in terms remarkably similar to Paul’s instructions here.

Wherever Christians gather, they start to give. And it’s not always money they’re giving; money is only one way to express the sharing which is the Christian life, but they’re always expressing the love of God through some kind of giving. Giving of time, giving of effort and skill, giving of prayer for each other, giving of money directly or through the church, giving of hospitality: because God gives to us, so we in whom the image of God has been restored by Christ, are moved by the Holy Spirit to make our lives about giving.

Indeed, the whole point of the Christian life is to give yourself away, as fast as you can – because love is a highly perishable commodity, and you can’t store it up. But the faster you give away your love, the faster God, directly or through the people of God, can fill you up again. You don’t need to worry about running out. Oh, there are practicalities to consider, I know – but most people worry far too much about how little they can get away with giving, when they ought to be trying to figure out how to give away as much of themselves as they can. John Wesley’s advice is still as good today as it was 250 yrs ago: Earn all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can. And it applies to more things than just money.

Still, money is a matter of concern. It’s a large part of how the church maintains itself, and also a large part of how it does the ministry God has called it to do. And at this time of year, we are getting ready to ask people to make an effort to estimate their giving to the church for the coming year. This helps the congregation’s leadership with their task of managing the church’s resources, but it’s not just a matter of administrative routine.

What it also is, is an opportunity for each of us to go over our own situation – to see how we’ve prospered, as Paul would say – and to offer ourselves to God in faith. To dare to stretch a bit and see if we can’t give ourselves away just a little bit more, a little bit faster – not only in thanksgiving to God for all he has provided us, but also in expectation that the more we empty our hands, the more God can fill them. The Christian life is an imitation of Christ. It’s about giving ourselves – all that we are, and all that we have - that the world might know him, and love him, and serve him.

Amen.

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3:09 pm - Kandersteg High Adventure Trip
Our Happy Crew went over itinerary choices and costs at our meeting today for our projected high adventure trip to Kandersteg International Scout Centre in Switzerland. Projected dates are June 14-21, 2017.

We would fly into Geneva and take the train (special Scout fare) to Bern, then south to Kandersteg Village. Bus fare to the Scout Centre is free for Scouts wearing their neckerchiefs. Note: We probably need to design a Crew neckerchief instead of a Crew t-shirt this year.

We would have five full days at Kandersteg. We think we can do fun and interesting things around the Centre and in the village -- including a day hike or two -- for the first two days. Then, a day spent in Thun: travel by train; tour Thun Castle; shop for souvenirs, knock about. Days 4 and 5 would be spent on an overnight hike to a mountain hut from Kandersteg. Then, a full day to get back to Geneva and stay overnight at the airport waiting for a 7 a.m. flight for home.

The bottom line for this trip: We're writing a budget right now for $1900 per person. Wobbles in the air travel market and other imponderables might cause us to have to go to $2000 per person in the spring, but we're confident we can do this for that price. We need at least $1400 per person paid down by February in order to buy airline tickets. And, of course, each person going must have a U.S. Passport. (No tourist visa required to enter Switzerland from USA!) We think we can get each youth going some scholarship help.

At the present time, we have two adults (male) and two youth (male) who are ready to commit to the trip. That meets our minimum requirements to go; ideally, a crew size of about eight is what we shoot for, so there is room for four more crew members, male or female (though if we have a female youth, we automatically need a female adult). And we would like for people to commit before the end of the year. We are open to taking Venturers from other Crews or Scouts who are able to multiple-register as Venturers. Venturers are 14-20 years old, and can be either male or female.

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Saturday, November 12th, 2016
7:18 pm - Young's Creek Trail
Our Hiking Merit Badge group met up at 8:00 a.m. at the church and were soon on the road to the Young's Creek Trailhead south of Paoli, Indiana, about an hour away. We had everybody for this adventure. Today was Matt's last qualifying hike for the MB. After today, Andrew still has one ten-miler and Logan needs two more. Don drove.

It was a chilly morning with a clear sky. Going to be a beautiful day. Don brought an orange vest and Andrew had an orange sweatshirt. Don reminded us that today was Opening Day of the gun season for hunting whitetail deer. Oh, yeah. We met several deer hunters in the course of the day. They were all cordial, but hoping we wouldn't scare the deer away.

Orange is the new black

Orange is the new black
Gearing up at the trailhead

By 9:30 a.m., we were off down the trail. The whole of our day was spent on forest trails dedicated to hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. That meant that we would have dirt beneath our feet, rather than pavement. The day promised to be kind to our feet. As we started off down the trail, a solitary woodpecker was the only sound.

A golden autumn day

A golden autumn day
I kept trying to capture the light filtering through the trees

The trail led consistently downhill for the first mile and a half. It was fun to walk, but I was worried about the second half of the day, when we would have to gain back all the elevation we were losing right now.

We came to our first waymeet. This required extensive consultation with both our map and the one posted by the Forest Service beside the trail. I get impatient with Scouts' inability to read a map; after all, we constantly go over this skill. But then, I discovered that confusing the issue was the fact that the Forest Service had posted their map beside the trail upside down, so that it was oriented wrong. This is one of my pet peeves, and it just serves as a reminder that you can't believe every sign you find in the wilderness. It's best that you really know where you are and where you're going. Depend on your own skills.

Convenient rest stop

Convenient rest stop
Taking advantage of a tree down across the trail

In late fall and early spring, the woods open out, to give you a sense of country. You can see horizons peeping through. In full summer, all you see is a green wall, and you can't "read" the land to see what's going on as easily. When you are a four-season camper and hiker, you notice stuff like this. Summer-only campers miss out on all the beauty and grandeur to be had. Every season has its special attributes.

The woods open out

The woods open out
I love hiking when the leaves are down

We came to our first road crossing, and I saw that a new trail had been added since the last time I did this hike. Eight years ago, we had to take the road down to a crossroads, then another road up to catch the trail again. Now, we stepped across the road and kept on walking through the woods. There was a trail map posted by the crossing (oriented correctly this time) which helped clarify what my map did not.

I told the guys about that last hike down here. It was in early December, 2008. There was snow on the ground, and a light snowfall during the day. Here's a flashback to that day, featuring one of our Venturers who was then a 13-year-old Scout. Jeffrey's 21 now, and not cute anymore, I'm afraid. Oy veh, it happens to all of us.

Jeffrey takes a sip

Flashback to a young Jeffrey on the Young's Creek trail
Geez, man, what happened to you?

We walked through drifts of dried leaves, which often made it too noisy to hear each other talk. We stopped for lunch at 12:30 or so. I said, "I'm sitting in a patch of sunshine in the beautiful outdoors, eating BACON. It doesn't get any better than this."

The trail went way down to a dry creek bottom, then did some serious UP as it climbed a ridge. By the time we got back to the same road to be crossed, we were pretty blown. I said to the Scouts, "I assure you, I feel every one of my ninety-five years." One of them said, "You're 95?" To which I replied, "You're only as old as you feel." Which can be taken in more than one way, if you think about it. Still, I noticed that the road itself was much higher here than where we had first crossed it. This encouraged me to think that maybe the rest of the elevation we had to gain back wouldn't be too bad.

We tramped on. I kept working over some anomalies in the various trail maps we encountered. According to my map, the Young's Creek Trail should be 10.5 miles. But adding up all the segments they show on the trailsigns would make it about 11.5 miles. We finally agreed to call it eleven miles for the record.

We had another road to cross. A short, severe rise brought us up to the last crossing. We were looking pretty ragged and beginning to leave people behind. I rode Andrew, the hike leader, a good bit on this. After every break, he and Logan would jackrabbit off, and the line of hikers would get all strung out. He said that was the way he walked down the hall at school, or anywhere else. I said, not for the first time, and not just to Andrew, that leadership is about getting the best peformance out of your crew, not just about doing what you feel comfortable doing.

Just two Ranger miles to go

Just two Ranger miles to go
The mileage begins to show on the hikers

Andrew did a better job on the last leg of the hike. Some of us were pretty spent, and all of us were ready to top the last rise and see the trailhead again. I suspected that it lay atop the ridge right in front of us, but the trail twisted round and the ridge we were looking for wasn't yet in store. We took a break, collected ourselves, and then -- of course -- there it was, not a hundred yards ahead. As we came in, we noticed that the hunters had been busy.

Today"s bag

Today's bag
It was Opening Day of gun season, after all

I dropped to the ground and did my traditional five pushups with pack on, and gave my Venturing call: "Rougher! Tougher! Buffer!" Except I didn't feel very rough, tough, or buff. Still, we all made it, and in good order. The time was 3:35, six hours on the trail to cover eleven miles.

We dropped off Matt at Judah on the way home. I finally limped in my door and scrounged up a ham sandwich for supper. It was a beautiful day spent in good company.

And now, my estimated lifetime hiking total is 1,681 miles.

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Friday, November 11th, 2016
10:51 pm - Four kinds of statements
Suppose someone said to you, "I'm really a unicorn (or dragon, or werewolf, or whatever)." There are such people. I know one or two. They really believe that their spirit within them is this mythical beast. Others believe that they are really not-so-mythical beasts: lions, for instance, or wolves. How do we evaluate such statements? What if I told you that the person making such a statement is mentally ill? That would account for his belief.

Still, not all bizarre beliefs arise from mental illness. Take the person who says that she is the reincarnation of a Parisian courtesan during the Ancien Regime. Millions of people who are not mentally ill believe in reincarnation. They may be mistaken, but they are not crazy. They are making a metaphysical statement, akin to religious belief. We are under no obligation to believe what they say, but we usually accord them a degree of courtesy to say it, promote it, gather others to celebrate it.

Another kind of statement about oneself is the family legend. My great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Pulliam, swore to his dying day that he voted for his cousin, Benjamin Harrison, for President. Not that Harrison was his first cousin; no, he claimed more distant kinship than that. Still, nobody has been able to prove the connection. Family records are not what we would like them to be, courthouses have lost records in fires (especially during the Civil War), yada yada. Similarly, my wife's family has a story of descent from a Miami Indian "princess." Common law marriage on the frontier, where nobody asked for proof of ethnicity, makes this very hard to substantiate. Yet the story's been around for years. Unlike the disordered musing or metaphysical belief, this is a statement of humdrum fact, even if unprovable. The point is, we would welcome definite proof one way or another, but in the absence of such, we pass along the story and give others' stories the benefit of the doubt. We call it "tradition."

Contrast that with Rachel Dolezal's claiming to be black, or Ward Churchill claiming to be a Native American. Admitting before all else that "black" and "Native American" are social constructs, the precise boundaries of which are a bit hazy, neither Dolezal nor Churchill have any ancestors who are black or Native American, respectively. And they know it. Their claiming to be something they are demonstrably, provably, not, is simple fraud. They gained attention, an audience, jobs, book contracts, even political power from their counterfeit identities. Norton I, the so-called Emperor of North America, might be seen as a fraud, though he never profited much from his posure. More likely, his belief arose from mental illness -- a breakdown suffered after business failures.

So, all four of these statements offer themselves as statements about reality, even about personal reality. Before we go on to evaluate other kinds of statements about reality, let's put some of our most cherished personal realities to the test. After all, when I say, "I have been born again," or further, "God called me to ministry," I am claiming to be describing a real attribute of myself. Millions talk this way. Now, some of them might be mentally ill, and a few might be frauds, but for most of us, this is a metaphysical statement we make in accordance with our religious beliefs. Those of us who share these beliefs accept that these statements are statements about reality, and we have ways of testing these statements which satisfy us. But nobody else is required to believe us. Non-believers are often completely skeptical on this point, and you can't blame them.

Now, let us suppose that somebody says, "I am transgender." What does that mean? I understand this person to mean he or she is not a transvestite, which is a condition where somebody gets a thrill from dressing as the opposite sex, while nevertheless knowing perfectly well that he or she is not that sex. No, the transgender person typically says, "I really am [the other sex]." Some even say, there are three (or more) genders. What sort of statements are these?

They could be considered the fruit of mental illness, and no doubt in some cases, they are. On the other hand, I know some people who seem to be in their right minds, but who nevertheless say these things. And I know people who repeat the line about there being more than two genders (the confusion of "gender" and "sex" aids this confusion), in support of family or friends who are claiming this status. It would seem to be a metaphysical statement, along the lines of professing to be reincarnated or born again. If that is so, then it should also follow that nobody should be required to believe a word of it. Courtesy would require us to allow them their belief and not interfere with it, but when somebody tries to make this a legal status, with rights accruing thereto, I say, Whoa.

On what basis should we accord rights -- real rights enforceable against others -- on the basis of a metaphysical statement? Can people who believe themselves to be reincarnated princesses demand that others curtsy to them or be fined? And if these rights are to be adjudicated in court, what sort of evidence would establish their case? The only evidence for being transgender is internal: "I just know it." This is what was called spectral evidence in the 17th Century, and people were put to death at Salem, Massachusetts, because some people said, "we just know (that so and so is a witch)." They turned out to be frauds, but the court believed them on the basis of their professed belief.

Shall we go back to admitting spectral evidence in court? Is a person to be given rights enforceable against others, including schools, governmental bodies, communities, neighbors, on the basis of what they "just know" about themselves? On the basis of their own internal certitude? What kind of a crazy world would that make?

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Wednesday, November 9th, 2016
9:26 pm - On the election and its aftermath
The wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who feel cast into the outer darkness with Herself is making itself heard across the land. People are already counting down to the next election. (Give it a rest, people -- at least until the new administration comes in; we all deserve a Merry Christmas, okay?)

Part of me sympathizes. I've been there, losing elections that made me sick to my stomach, shake with rage, all that. I, too, have feared for my country, felt as if it were slipping away. And I've nursed some powerful grudges against various politicians, the Clintons notable among them. I spent most of yesterday depressed that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next President. The damage to the country I foresaw, the gratuitous nastiness and corruption that was coming, left me numb.

And then I fired up my laptop about 10:00 and saw that things were not going quite as planned. And my depression lifted. Not that I'm a fan of Donald Trump, but to see Hillary finally sent packing was something that felt good and right and long overdue.

But back to the topic I started with: those who thought they were on the right side of history with Herself, who were looking forward to a victory that was snatched from them even as they sat down to feast on it. As I said, I sympathize somewhat. But when I read their anguished screeds, in which they not only blame everybody but their candidate -- especially in which they blame their neighbors on the other side, who voted for reasons as lofty or personal as their own, and call them bigots and racists and so on -- well, then my sympathy pales.

People get tired of the progressives' everlasting sneers and condescension, their vilification of others (even as they say their opponents' problem is their rejection of The Other), their unfounded moral superiority. Part of me sympathizes with anybody experiencing the pain of loss -- but part of me wants to say, Howzat feel, baby? Howl some more for me, I like it.

That's not very admirable of me, but I'd be more than human if I didn't feel it. What goes around, comes around. Karma's a -- well, you know.

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Monday, November 7th, 2016
11:20 am - Sermon Series: Pulled In Every Direction
Sermon Seven: "Resurrection"

1 Corinthians 15

What is Christianity all about? I mean, what is the linchpin of what we teach and practice?

That might sound like a too-obvious question, but I don’t think it is. Listening to what people say and write about Christianity could give you the idea that what Christianity is really about is – well, Morals. Or lifestyle. Or doctrine. Or social issues. How about miracles? Or life after death? Or the sacraments? Some people start their apologia for being a Christian with a description of their church’s polity, or how they were baptized, or with a narrative of their conversion experience; meanwhile, some people in The UMC believe that we can teach radically different things and do radically different things, but still remain united because we do “mission” together.

Because Christianity is a “totalizing” relationship – a thing that affects every part of yourself and reorganizes all your priorities - we wind up talking about, and arguing over, all these things. But none of these things is the make-or-break thing that makes Christianity, without which it wouldn’t be Christianity any more. The thing that does make Christianity what it is – the linchpin of everything else, the real center of all the talk and all the activity – is, according to the apostle Paul,

Resurrection: specifically, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; but more generally, the Resurrection unto the kingdom of God that the resurrection of Jesus guarantees. This is what we call “the blessed hope.”

If this is not true, then none of it is true. And if it isn’t true, then it doesn’t really matter how moral, or accepting, or philosophical it is, or what rites and ceremonies there are, or how you feel about it. Christianity without Christ is a big nothingburger, a giant waste of one’s time. And a Christ who did not rise from the dead is just another dead teacher, with nothing better to offer than any other guy on a soapbox.

That’s the essence of what Paul has to say here in Chapter 15 of his First Letter to the Corinthians. Having addressed himself to their various scandals and dysfunctions, having answered the questions they sent him, Paul now wants to make sure that what is eternally important doesn’t get lost in all the talk about everything else. So he says,
Now, I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast - unless you believed in vain. (15:1-2)
He then goes on to talk about the factual basis of their faith: that there were over 500 witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that most of them were still alive (1st Corinthians was written within twenty-five years of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus).
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (15:3-8)
Paul’s claim to be an apostle ultimately rested on his having seen the risen Christ and been called by him to this ministry.

Now, I don’t imagine that any of the Corinthian believers doubted that Jesus rose from the dead – it was too obviously part of the Christian message – but the implications of that might not have sunk very deep in them, particularly of they were Gentile Christians. For the Jewish believers, the doctrine of Resurrection would have been familiar, and they probably immediately grasped the importance of Christ having been raised: It's begun. God has started to judge the world – and redeem it! But especially for some of the Gentiles, Christ’s resurrection may have seemed like a one-off: a proof of his divinity, to be sure, but not something that mattered for anybody else.

Paul hits this hard:
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. (15:12-16)
And then he comes to the big consequences:
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. (15:17-19)
In other words, if Christ has not been raised, then there’s nothing to hope for, no better day coming, no justice, and no glory.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (15:20)
This is the point: Jesus Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection, the firstborn of the dead. His victory over death means he can share it with those who entrust themselves to him. This is God’s means of addressing the fall of humanity. Paul talks about Christ as the new Adam here, the one who undoes the damage of our first parents’ sin.
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (15:21-23)
Christianity is not, fundamentally, about life after death, but about life after life. Death itself, one of the basic building blocks of the material universe, is destined to be discarded. God intends to create a new kind of world, in which things don’t run down - don’t die – and in which his people will live with him eternally.

The hope of being part of that bright company, “when the saints go marching in” is what drives Paul – and should drive us – to live the kind of life that is pleasing to God.
What do i gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals." (15:32-33)
Well, okay, but this raises some questions, and Paul anticipates that:
But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. (15:35-44)
Paul is here trying to say something, I think, that he lacked a vocabulary for. Nobody had a vocabulary for it. He is trying to contrast the material conditions and physical laws of our world with the conditions that will obtain in a world whose fundamental laws are radically different from those we know. He reaches for the heights, and almost loses us in his attempt to describe the resurrection body – and then falls back on a simple declaration:
Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" (15:51-55)
This is what you can put your trust in: Jesus will come back – and he will come back for you. Those who have died, awaiting his coming, will not miss out on the new creation, and those who are still living when he comes will not have to die first in order to receive the new life. Christ has promised to keep those who have come to him; has promised, “All that the Father gives me will come to me" and "No one will be able to snatch them out of my hand."

We believe that those who have died in him, still live with him, and will return with him, on the Day of days, when the creation is renewed. But why is it so important that we should live again in the body – in some kind of body? Isn’t going to heaven when we die enough? Ah, but the victory is to be a victory over death – over the very idea of death, over the loss of hopes, over running out of time, over things ending, over time’s decay – and especially, over sin.

Sin is the sting in death: all the things that messed up life that can’t be fixed; all the things you just have to settle for, because you can’t go back and undo the things that you wish you’d never done. So God intends to purge the world of sin, by purging sinners of their sin. And those who are so purged will then join him in a world that knows no endings – therefore, no disappointments – and no stain of any kind of sin.

In order to demonstrate his justice, God will demand an accounting of every act from everybody. Then, in order to demonstrate his mercy, God will give to those who have trusted in Christ a new creation in which there shall be no more of the former things that messed up the old world and their lives within it. It is for this reason that the Son of God came to be one of us, to die in our place and take away our sins, and then to rise on our behalf and open the way to the kingdom of heaven and the new life of the age to come. This is why we say that only Jesus can do this for us. Only he has risen fr the dead to make this possible for us. Only he is the Resurrection and the Life. And only he can give us a new life - the undying life of God.

That new life begins now. We can feel it stirring within us, and we want to be as far along the path toward holiness as we can get before our own lives end. But whether the end of our lives catches us sooner, or later, we know that God will finish the work he has begun in us, and our hope shall not disappoint us. “Therefore,” says Paul,
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (15:58)
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

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Saturday, November 5th, 2016
3:39 pm - Owen-Putnam State Forest Ten-miler
We hadn't pulled off a hike since mid-July. Don and I were pretty out of shape. Logan couldn't make it. Matt and Andrew were as ready as ever, which is to say, strong but not enthusiastic. (I referred to them on the trail as Sullen and Grumpy, since they don't talk much. But they can sure keep going. Fourteen-year-olds are like oxen or mules, they'll walk till they drop; just don't ask them for conversation.)

Anyway, we met at the church at 8:30 this morning, and Deanne drove the four of us out to the boonies, dropping us off on Rattlesnake Road somewhere south of Cuba in the wilds of Owen County. There began a gravel road that led to Rattlesnake Campground, three miles away. It was a dim, shady morning, with the promise of clear skies and cool weather. A bit of hoarfrost still lingered on the fence rails.

Chilly morning

Chilly morning
Rattlesnake Road, Owen County

By 9:15, we were moving on down the road. We were wearing flannel shirts or jackets and gloves. Only patches of sunshine filtered down to the road through the trees. The cool weather, however, meant that we could move briskly and not need as frequent breaks as we often take. We expected to make some good time on the trail today.

Surber Road, which leads to Rattlesnake Campground, is a public road, but it might as well be a forest road. It crosses its creeklet about three times, the first two of which can give you pause if you have to cross them when the water is up. We didn't have much trouble.

First crossing

First crossing
Which way is the best way?

Second crossing

Second crossing
This way you don't get your feet wet

By 10:20, we had arrived at Rattlesnake Camp, a full three miles from our start. That's a rate of advance of almost 3 mph. We paused for a break and a snack, and shed our outer wear. We started off again by 10:45. Our path took us down a little down forest road, which eventually became a public (but still gravel) road. There was some up and down, fortunately more up than down.

Forest Road

Forest Road
A beautiful, clear autumn day

Matt was doing an excellent job of not walking off and leaving the old geezers behind. He set a brisk pace, but made sure to keep the group together. By 11:30, we hit Hale Hill Road. Just a few yards from the waymeet, Fish Creek Road began. Our route now headed south to the Forest HQ and the camp behind it. In just a few minutes, we came to the horse camp between Rattlesnake and Fish Creek Campgrounds. There, we stopped for lunch. We had done five miles or so in two and a half hours.

Didn"t make it

Didn't make it
This is what happens when you mess up a teleportation spell

Refueled and ready to go

Refueled and ready to go
Off on the road again

We left the horse camp at 12:20. Matt thought we could power through to the end without taking any more breaks. He set a pace Don and I couldn't keep up. Eventually, Don had to take off his ankle brace, which was rubbing him the wrong way. I was on the verge of cramps and muscle pulls in my legs. We had to remind Matt that four miles was still four miles, and if you burn out your crew, it'll take a lot longer to get there. About two miles from our goal, I called Deanne to warn her that we were ahead of schedule.

Fish Creek Road passed houses and farms. A friendly horse came out to greet us, and I gave her the apple core from my lunch. She pranced and kicked around her pasture after that. We stopped for a break a little later on a soft patch beside the road, and some local guys stopped to remind us, helpfully, that they were going to be sighting in some guns on the land we were stopped on. (Translation: why are you here?) We replied that we had just stepped off the road for a break.

Friendly horsie

Friendly horsie
Piebald pony

Follow the creek

Follow the creek
The valley broadens out here a bit

Suddenly, we saw the State Forest HQ, and we turned off the road that climbs to Fish Creek Campground. This last hill was the one genuine butt-buster of the day. We dragged ourselves to the top and plunked ourselves down at the shelter by the fishing pond. It was 2:10. We had done all ten miles in only 4 hours 55 minutes. We had only to wait a few minutes at the shelter before Deanne appeared to whisk us back to E-ville.

Almost there

Almost there
That last hill is a doozy

All in all, it was a great day for hiking. The cool weather helped us set a really good pace. The roads were easy, and mostly downhill. I was probably hurting more than I usually am for this one, so I was glad that it was as easy as it was.

My estimated lifetime hiking total is now 1670 miles.

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Friday, November 4th, 2016
8:29 pm - A beautiful day in the neighborhood
I spent yesterday after my surgery consultation doing all kinds of stuff at home: lots and lots of paperwork on the computer in between lots and lots of household chores. By 4 o'clock I had reached a state of completion and got ready to blow this place and go over to the holler.

I arrived at my cabin a little after dark. The first thing I noticed upon entering the cabin was the lack of any musty smell. Everything was dry. The patches I put on my skylights are all holding nicely, which means that replacing the skylights just went from critical on the must-do list to when I can get to it.

I settled in for the evening, and I was reading a little, but I kept nodding off. I decided there was no reason to stay up just because of the clock, so I went to bed at about quarter to nine. I slept myself out completely, not getting out of the bag until daylight was abroad. When I finally checked the clock upon going downstairs, it read 8:20 a.m. So, not counting bathroom breaks in the night, I got over eleven hours of sleep.

This is astounding. It is a special gift of God. I mean, you might think me crazy for rhapsodizing about sleep like that, but I lead a very busy, high stress life. I have lots of things for which I am responsible, and all of them require preparation and/or follow-up reports. My sleep deprivation has gotten to the point where I don't even try to make it up; I just swill more caffeine. So, if I got nothing else accomplished this weekend, to have spent the night in the peace of my cabin and got that much sleep was worth the trip.

It was chilly when I got busy outdoors about ten o'clock, and it stayed cool all day. That said, I was moving fast enough that I was sweating a bit, so it didn't matter. The main chore was to lay block. I was trying to get the end finished down on the low side of the building site. I got over nine feet laid, and the corner turned. This was the really awkward spot to get down into, and I'm glad it's done. I now have three sides of my foundation course completed. The back side will require 12" block. I hope to get that done before the hard frosts arrive.

Finished the low side

First course, far end
It's booful

After cleaning up my tools and the cabin, I was hanging around, waiting for the guys from Aurora Tire to come out and install my new ag tires on my tractor. They got there at 4:30, but couldn't get the job done. One of my rims had a rusted-out spot around the valve stem, so they had to take the rims off and take them back to the shop. They'll do a little cleanup and some welding and then come out and install everything next Friday. Well, I'll be there. Praying for good weather to lay some block!

Meanwhile, the day was beautiful. I heard a noise while working and looked up in time to see a Whitetail buck -- about six or eight points -- go clambering down into the creek and across to the other side. Meanwhile, his companion buck -- about four to six points -- ran up the draw whence they had come. I said to myself, "It's a stag party!" I also saw a box turtle over in the Hallows while checking on the pets' cairns. Life is at the full now, at the crown of the year. Praise God!

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Friday, October 28th, 2016
7:44 am - Philology is phun
Every language has its own way of pronouncing certain things. You can't just assume by the way a word is spelled how it should be said. Take the double L. In Spanish or French, the double L is pronounced like a Y: Allende, Versailles. In Italian, though, the double L is just L: pollo in umido. Then come the Welsh. Their double L stands for a sound that exists in no other Indo-European language that I know of. It's sort of like a cat hissing. Llanberis sounds like something between hlanberis and clanberis.

Well, English also has a distinctive sound. In Old English, the letter Ash, now written as Æ, stands for a vowel sound nobody else uses. It's the flat A you hear in "The fat cat sat on the mat." Virtually every other language I know pronounces A as "ah," as in "Father" or "small." Old English had the letter A as well as Ash, and pronounced A as "ah." But when the ligature æ went out of use, the letter A was employed for both sounds.

Meanwhile, what we call "long A," which isn't an A sound at all, but a diphthong of long E + I ("face" is really pronounced feh-ees) is the result of the Great Vowel Shift taking place in Chaucer's time. This accounts for the dislocated way in which English pronounces various letters compared to other European languages, but it doesn't add any unique sounds. We just shuffled the sounds we started with, pronouncing them higher in the mouth and diphthongizing a bunch of them (a diphthong is two vowel sounds smashed together -- think Southern drawl, as in dayyum for "damn"). But the Ash is all our own. We started out with it, and kept it.

Yes, I know, you'll hear something close to it in German, when A comes before a double consonant, as in Mannheim. But nobody else says "ram-a-lam-a-ding-dang" with the flat A English speakers use. Just listen to a bunch of American students taking first year German. The way they pronounce the A in German words is painfully un-German. But it is very, very English.

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