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Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
9:41 am - It's that time again!
Time for the Annual Conference March!
I won't help and you won't help and so we are co-dependent,
in vestments so resplendent,
for un-PC repentant.
We have nothing real to do, but we're loyally attendant
at our Conference.

Oh, we are marching to Euphoria!
Euphoria! Euphoria!
Where the thinking's all done for ya,
at Annual Conference.

Meetings here and meetings there and way too expensive dining,
pointless debate refining,
ministers re-assigning;
meanwhile for another year we see membership declining
in our Conference.

Oh, we are marching to Euphoria!
Euphoria! Euphoria!
Where the thinking's all done for ya,
at Annual Conference.

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Monday, June 5th, 2017
6:42 pm - Let there be light
The windows are up. I am so proud of the youth and adults who made this happen.

Twenty-one youth and nine adults took part. Some cut and ground glass, fitted and soldered. Others gave critical design advice or the use of their special skills or loaned tools and donated materials.

First of all, thanks to Tammie Lawrence for her gift that made this possible.
Congratulations to Harrison, Logan, and Mason, my 2014 confirmation class, who designed this.
And "well done" to everybody who took part.

The complete roster of crafters and helpers:
Dylan Clark;
Harrison Cottingham;
Lea Hewitt;
Sergei Holtman;
Stepan Holtman;
Emma Latimer;
Nicholas Latimer;
Tyler Marotz;
Annie Mischler;
Mason Moore;
Zach Nichols;
Evan Oldham;
Jack Oldham;
Alex Pittsford;
Harrison Pittsford;
Abby Pyle;
Ian Slabaugh;
Logan Slabaugh;
Neely Slabaugh;
Anthony Sparks;
Isla Weber.
Dick Carl;
Judy Carl;
Keith Clark;
Art Collins;
Steve Cottingham;
Andy Fluke;
Tim Paul;
Jerry Pittsford;
Tiffany Willingham.


Dedication Day
Photo by Cheryl Pittsford

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Wednesday, May 31st, 2017
10:59 am - Busy morning at church
The guys from Cassady were here when I pulled up this morning, eager to get to work hanging the light box which will illuminate the youth's stained glass windows. While they were getting started, Ann B. came to change the banner in the chancel to red for Pentecost; her grandson Jake wanted to mess around on the organ, which he did with my blessing.

Installing the light box

Installing the light box
Piece of cake

Jacob Cunningham

Phantom of the Opera understudy
Jacob C.

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7:59 am - The day after the day after
Day Two in our new digs. I actually slept in a bed last night. It's too early to begin unpacking fripperies like my stuffed animal collection, but I needed to re-purpose some boxes. Hera finds them a comforting presence.

Onward and upward.

Hera finds a group to relate to

Hera finds a group to relate to
Plush Convention

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Tuesday, May 30th, 2017
8:51 am - Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted
Himmel, Arsch, und Zwirn! but I'm tired. I haven't put in an 18-hour day in a long time. Still, aches and weariness aside, I think I'm doing better than my moving crew. Those young men were dragging severely by the time we were done yesterday. Still, they did a great job.

It took three trips with a fully-loaded 17-foot truck to move our stuff from hither to yon. After everything was done and we were alone in the house, I dropped on the nearest piece of cleared-off furniture I could find and slept the night away. I managed to find my shaving kit and medicine this morning. The kitchen was in chaos, so no coffee maker; I stopped at Steak & Shake and got a large coffee to go.

Today's major job will be clearing the trash out of the parsonage. Jerry P. is coming over this afternoon with a trailer and we are taking a trip to the dump. He's also going to help me take apart our old piano. I'm going to take the metal in it to the salvage yard. I'd like to take the wooden shell out to the Cottingham farm for a bonfire. I'd fancy building a fire in the shell of the old piano and getting a picture of me "playing" a flaming keyboard.

There's still a quantity of this and that to be sold or given away. And there's still all Zachary's stuff out in the garage. "Such predicaments. I must forge ahead." (T-Bone) Meanwhile, it will take weeks to sort out the piles of our possessions in the new house. And the lawn needs to be mowed right away. Sigh.

Still, I have coffee. The day's starting out rather well. Let's hope it continues so.

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Sunday, May 28th, 2017
2:02 pm - deep thoughts -- get yer boots
While digging into a box of miscellaneous papers I've toted around for more years than I care to relate, I found the following poem, written for a Poetry Workshop at ISU in 1974. I will leave you to guess the interpretation thereof. Hint: it's probably not what you think. And for sure, it's not my usual style.

garbage spills forth from my sleeve
the red dog barks!
my ear cowers

does he sniff my arm, whereon
the putrid baked potato skin lies in wait?
yesterday's chowder malevolently anticipates
tonight's french dressing

cry out!
against the rape of the radishes
worse than death, my cucumber virgin
the dog's tail grins as he mops the floor
with salacious caninity

my nose is blue
I cannot swallow the rancid Gainesburgers

drowning in a sea of enzymes

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Friday, May 26th, 2017
8:33 pm - James the Camera Hog
I borrowed a trailer and took a bunch of stuff over to Anna's today. They are welcome to it. James put his lawn chair on the trailer and sat down as if I were going to give him a ride. (Sorry, kid, no can do.) It reminded me of a local celebrity riding a parade float.

I love a parade

I love a parade
I'm cute and I know it

Daniel is always moving so fast, it's hard to get a good picture of him. And when he does attempt to smile for the camera, he kind of smirks. James, on the other hand (typical lastborn child) knows the world is just waiting to adore him. Whenever a camera comes out, he starts mugging for it.

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Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017
9:38 pm - You light up my life
Our stained glass project is nearing completion. The light box is finished. We're installing the lights. It's time for someone who can splice wires and do other finicky stuff. Steve Cottingham and I have been plugging away the last couple of days. I've been installing hardware; he's been installing wires.


Steve making the magic happen

We should finish this in a couple of days, I hope. Then the pros can mount it on the wall and wire it up to the house current next week. Toward the end of next week, we'll actually install the windows in the box.

Target: Dedication on June 4.

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Monday, May 22nd, 2017
9:54 pm - Update on itinerary.
Wonderful news!

Our travel agent has just e-mailed me. Turkish Air has agreed to switch our outbound flight to United, with whom they have a partnership, at no extra cost. We even get to Geneva faster. We will still return via Istanbul, so keep praying. For that matter, we covet your prayers above all else, because airlines switch flights around all the time. We would have bounced with the change we got handed; we just didn't want to visit Istanbul outside the airport security zone at this time.

This means that we are back on track and under budget again! God bless those of you who have volunteered to help, or communicated our need to others. God bless those of you who redoubled your prayers for us! You share in all our successes, and it is a joy to testify to your faithfulness. Glory to God!

If you have already sent a check our way, I will be pleased to send it back to you. May God bless you as richly as you have blessed us!

Love from Art and Crew 119

New itinerary: Venturers, please note!

June 11, Depart Indianapolis 10:18 AM United Flight 6013
Arrive Dulles 11:50 AM (actual flight time 1 hr 42 min)

Depart Dulles 5:30 PM United Flight 974
Arrive Geneva June 12 7:40 AM local time (actual flight time 8 hr 10 min)

June 20, Depart Geneva 7:05 AM Turkish Air Flight 1330
Arrive Istanbul 11:10 AM local time (actual flight time 3 hr 5 min)

Depart Istanbul 2:10 PM Turkish Air Flight 5
Arrive Chicago 5:35 PM local time (actual flight time 11 hr 25 min)

Depart Chicago 9:05 PM United Flight 473
Arrive Indianapolis 11:11 PM local time (actual flight time 1 hr 6 min)

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Sunday, May 21st, 2017
2:26 pm - Looking for help
Our happy Crew met this afternoon to talk about our trip to Switzerland. Turkish Air has thrown us a major curve ball. They have canceled our afternoon flight from Istanbul to Geneva and moved it to the next day. This stretches our getting to Geneva over an extra day, plus it would require us to stay overnight at a hotel in Istanbul. There's no extra cost for that overnight stay, but given the nature of things in Turkey right now, none of us are excited about doing that.

Turkish Air will refund the entirety of our ticket prices if we want, and our travel agent says she can reschedule us through another airline, but it will cost us $400 more per person to do so at this late date. This will make our trip budget suddenly go from a $350 surplus to a $1250 shortfall.

Given the upcoming holidays and graduation events and Annual Conference, we have no time to do any kind of fund-raiser before we go. So, we are reduced to asking supportive individuals and groups if they would like to donate to our Crew trip fund. Several of us took assignments to ask particular groups we have connections with if they would consider donating. Our deadline to get it all together is June 4, which is our last Crew meeting before we leave for Switzerland.

One person just handed me a $50 check and told me there'd be another $50 for us by our next meeting. God is good. Talk to me if you'd like to help.

Rougher! Tougher! Buffer!

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11:51 am - By request -- today's sermon

Ezra 3:8-13

This event – the laying of the foundation of the Second Temple, following the return from exile in Babylon – is a major historical “hinge.” It both connects the past with the present and the future and separates what is past to those at the event from their present and future. That's a complicated idea, so let me just tell you the story.

Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Judah in 597 BC, taking most of Jerusalem’s royal family and social/intellectual elite as captives to Babylon. He left one member of the royal family – Zedekiah – as a puppet-king, with instructions to keep the remainder of the people in line. Zedekiah rebelled, so Nebuchadnezzar came back, and in 587 – ten years after the first conquest - sacked the city, broke down the city wall, and destroyed Solomon’s Temple, leaving not one stone stacked upon another. He’d already carried off most of the Temple’s furnishings after the first siege, but now he razed the building itself. Jerusalem lay desolate for 49 years thereafter, a ghost city with only the poorest of the Judans left in the area.

Well, Babylon was conquered by Cyrus the Great in 538 BC, and the leading Jews – as the Judans are now called – were allowed to go back to Jerusalem if they wanted. Many went, including the priest Ezra, and the foundation for the Second Temple was laid in the next year, 537 BC. It took 21 years to complete. This was the Temple Jesus knew. It was finally destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Meanwhile, many Jews stayed in Babylon – and in other places. This was the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora – the dispersion – wherein Jews lived in many countries, speaking their languages, while maintaining a separate identify as the chosen people of God.

In our Scripture reading today, we see the celebrations on the day when they laid the cornerstone of the Temple.
And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy . . .
The destruction of the temple was 50 years before, and all these men had been taken to Babylon. They are now at least 55 or 60 – and older. Are they weeping for joy because the temple is being renewed? No, their weeping is contrasted with the joy of the others, who were too young to remember the former days. So maybe they are weeping because they think this temple can never be the equal of that one, and so much that was so precious is now gone for good, and they will never see it again.

Remember, this new Temple’s foundation is being laid in a city that is still, for the most part, a town of shacks and rubble, with no defensive walls, no political stability, no commerce. They could see the magnitude of the job ahead, but they could not imagine how it would be accomplished, or how greatly it would be accomplished. But it was.

Ezra began a cultural salvage job the like of which had never been seen before. He and the generation that he led are called the The Men of the Great Assembly in Jewish history. Under Ezra’s leadership, not only was the Temple rebuilt, but all that could be salvaged of Israel’s past was found and set in order. From this came what we call the Old Testament, for what was in existence before this time was now set down in definitive, authoritative editions, and what was scattered and fragmentary, they researched and composed themselves. And so the Law, the Prophets, and the Books of Wisdom were brought into their present form.

Not only did they finish and set forth what Jews call Tanakh – and we call the Old Testament – it is to this generation we owe the very idea of scripture: of an authoritative book, with a fixed text, that reveals the Word of God and the reception of which constitutes the People of God. In effect, they replaced the Ark of the Covenant with a Holy Book, and they placed it in the hands of the people, led by the priests and rabbis.

The Men of the Great Assembly also wrote the synagogue liturgy. They created the feast of Purim. And they did many other things, which taken together defined the religion of Judaism. They took everything essential about their beliefs, their identity, and their covenant with God – all of which had been thrown into doubt when they were dragged off to Babylon – and re-issued them in new form (but essentially the same) for the generations to follow them. It was a staggering achievement.

You’d think no one could ever achieve such a thing again in history, but . . . fast forward to the 5th Century AD. Christianity, which grew out of Second Temple Judaism – indeed, which saw the ministry of Jesus as the fulfillment of that Judaism – has spread throughout the Roman Empire. It only became a legal religion in AD 313, but then it became the official religion of the Empire in 380. So thoroughly had Christianity penetrated the intellectual and spiritual life of the Empire that it was now sometimes hard to separate the idea of “Christian” from the idea of “Roman” – to be one implied the other.

But then, throughout the 400s, a series of mass migrations, of invasions by Germanic barbarians – some heretics, some heathens – overran the Empire in the West, and the Empire was broken up into a hodge-podge of separate kingdoms – of Visigoths, Suevi, and Vandals, of Burgundians, Ostrogoths, Franks, Angles, Saxons, and finally, the Lombards: the ancestors of the nations of modern Europe. The Roman Church – which had just gotten really comfortable as the leading element in Roman society – now found itself having to explain its beliefs to people who didn’t speak Latin or Greek, who had very different cultural and religious identities.

So, the Church set out to translate the Gospel, in its entirety, into this new cultural milieu, explaining who God is and what Jesus did, the nature of sin and salvation, the meaning and practice of the sacraments, and all the rest of it. They set themselves to convert the Germanic peoples and teach them to be Christians – and they succeeded. They did it so well that many people now think of Christianity as a Western European religion, instead of a Near Eastern one.

And with the Gospel came all the tools to understand the gospel: the Bible itself, as well as art and literature and science, habits of thought, a common history – all of which helped explain the Gospel and make it at home in the new Europe that we now begin to call “medieval” - a blending of Greco-Roman antiquity and Germanic warrior tradition. The very idea of the medieval knight, for instance, using his skill at arms to defend the poor and do justice, is just the Germanic warrior ideal infused with the values of the Christian saint.

Well, fast forward again to the second half of the 20th Century, to a time we call the post-war Baby Boom, and the experience of the Boomers - those born between the years 1943 and 1960, among whom we find your beloved pastor. For us Boomers, our entire life has been a long, roller-coaster ride of constant change.

I remember while growing up and going through elementary school, secondary school, and then college, that my class always seemed to be either the first group to do something, which then became standard for years and years, or the last group to do something, after which that tradition was scrapped. Remember “senior cords?” Not if you’re younger than I am! I think there were only two or three of us – all of us with older siblings – who painted our pants with cartoons and slogans in the old tradition our senior year.

“New” became the fashion, and then a fever. If something was “New” it was automatically assumed to be better than something “Old.” By the time I was all grown up, the world that I knew as a young child - the world of my parents, that I expected to inherit and inhabit – was all but gone. And I’m not talking about simple stuff like new products, new technology, or pop culture fads. I’m talking about ideas, about political principles, about whole subjects taught in school.

My older sisters wrestled with ponderous and important books like Moby-Dick in their literature classes. When it came time for my class to study the great American novel, we read the sci fi paperback Alas, Babylon.

I took Western Civilization in college, even as they were chanting on the Berkley campus, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go” – because what was Western Civilization, after all, but a series of massacres and rapes and political oppression by dead white males? Today, in many colleges, no comprehensive course in our history is required, and what is offered does not explain Western Civ, but only debunk it.

I took a degree in English, and was always grumped that I couldn’t find an undergrad course in Old English in the course catalog. That was once a staple of the discipline, but now it was just for grad students. But then when I returned for grad school, they no longer offered it because it wasn't considered important any more. Today, people earn degrees in English where the sum total of what is learned is what Tom Shippey calls “a weary trawl through various approved victim groups.” And as for grammar, well, it isn’t taught much today because the professors themselves weren’t taught it, either, and don't know any.

And I don't mean to just rant on about the loss of the past. What this all means is that when you step outside our comfortable little box called “Church” and try to explain to someone who doesn’t understand Christianity what, exactly, we believe – and why we believe it – why we do what we do – and what is negotiable and what is not . . . Well, even if you know what you’re trying to say, chances are the people you’re talking with have no connecting links to help make sense of what you’re telling them. They don’t know the Bible. They don’t know our theological lingo. They don’t know any history. Indeed, all they have is one dominant idea with which to make sense of the world, and that is that the difference between Good and Bad is in how it makes them feel.

When I began my ministry, I thought that we were on the cusp of a new age, like the Christians of the 5th Century, and that what we needed to do was to translate our faith and all the stuff that helped you make sense of it into terms that people born on this side of the divide could grab hold of. Well, the divide has gotten a lot wider over the last forty years, and the need has gotten much, much greater. The nominal Christians are fading away. There are no longer people hanging around who know church and are just needing a push and a prayer to be saved. We aren’t going to advance the cause of Christ just by revving up the people who still attend church, or by swapping members with other churches through transfer growth. The target audience for all of us is now the people who mentally and spiritually inhabit the post-Christian world: those are the people we’re going to have to explain ourselves to, if Christianity is to become their religion.

We are faced with an enormous cultural salvage job. We have to lay the foundation of the Church for a new age – one that doesn’t remember what the Church used to be, or why it mattered. But the Good News we offer still needs to be the Good News – the Gospel. Just dressing up Church in new slogans won’t cut it. Dropping robes for polos and khakis won't make it. Making Church “easier” isn't good enough. Leaving unpopular parts out? Nope.

We’re going to have to grow spiritually and intellectually and make ourselves personally accountable for how we live our lives if we’re going to re-create and re-present faith in Christ to the people of our day and the days to come. We’re going to have to reclaim our past, before it’s gone, so that we can make a future for those Christ calls us to reach.

Facing the magnitude of the task, we might well weep to see just a few stones placed in that new Church that needs to be built. But we need to have faith in the eternal God, in Jesus “who is the same yesterday, today, and for ever,” and set ourselves to build again, and to see it through. To do the hard work of sharing the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that the as-yet unbelieving people of today can understand, and respond to.

God speed the work. Amen.

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Friday, May 19th, 2017
11:28 am - Give 'em an inch, they'll take a meter
I just watched some jerk give a snide assessment of the Imperial measurement system on YouTube. Hey, obviously the metric system is so much better, right?

What the metric snobs fail to realize is how counter-intuitive the metric system is. Powers of ten is a wonderful idea, but it is only possible once you have divorced numbers from the real world. I mean, if you asked a caveman what two and two add up to, he'd probably say, "two what and two what?" As if two apples and two rabbits couldn't be added, because they were different things. The idea of "four" has to await the transition from seeing numbers as adjectives to seeing them as nouns in and of themselves.

In the meantime, when math is mostly done at the counting stage, you find certain numbers more handy (literally) than others. Five fingers make a hand, and then you have to start counting over. Four hands make twenty, and beyond that it's hard to hold numbers in your heads. So fives and twenties are very important to people whose primary job is to tally sheep or sacks of grain or game animals.

But when it comes time to share out amongst the clan what has been caught or gathered, then the number twelve becomes very important. Twelve can be evenly divided by two, three, four, and six, while ten is only divisible by two and five. For that matter, simple shape division -- as in, cutting a pie -- is easy to do in halves, thirds, fourths, and sixths. This is why the "dozen" is so important a number in various Indo-European languages. Secondarily, the principle that you can always cut something in half leads to a lot of things divided by two, four, eight, and sixteen.

The handiness of the dozen is why twelve is worked into a number of other systems. The Babylonians took the handy numbers twelve and five and decided that sixty would be a good, round number for large calculations. This is why there are sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day, and 360 degrees in a circle. Because when you're manipulating reality in an analog fashion -- making dials and doing geometry -- the number ten is a pain.

You try dividing a circle into ten equal sections by hand. For that matter, try dividing a ruler into tenths. Pick whatever base length (inch, centimeter, cashew nut -- make something up) you want. Now divide those base lengths into tenths. Make standard rulers in tenths of something so everyone can use them in their work. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Yes, the metric system makes a lot of calculations work out much faster. I'm glad the US adopted decimal currency back in the late 1700s. It is far easier than the British system of pounds, shillings, and pence, where there were twenty shillings in a pound and twelve pence in a shilling (and therefore 240 pence in a pound). But you can see why it was done that way: twelve pence is easier to portion out than ten pennies; meanwhile, if you think of money as actual objects (mounds of coins) rather than abstract numbers, then physically counting large amounts of money is easier if you do it by twenties. A pound of silver is the product of the two handiest large numbers to physically calculate with: a dozen and a score.

Meanwhile, the avoirdupois pound, where you're mostly weighing things out, wants an even scale. It uses the principle of division by halves. A pound is sixteen ounces, as is a pint (a pint's a pound the world around!). A pint = 2 cups of eight ounces each. A cup is divisible into sixteen Tablespoons (one half ounce each). Going the other way, two pints is a quart, four quarts is a gallon.

Is the Imperial system arbitrary? No. It is true to reality as it is found and experienced. The metric system is arbitrary, since it picks one number to use as the basis for all numbering. You think I'm wrong? Then why do computers work in binary rather than base 10? Why do we buy memory cards in 2GB, 4GB, 8GB? Because machines work in multiples of two, while we have chosen to work in multiples of ten. (The major alternative to base 2 in computer science is base 16, by the way, not base 10.) Yes, we find it easy to reckon in tens, but it's arbitrary. And it doesn't help you when you're doing ordinary tasks like portioning out food.

I'm not saying we should dump the metric system. I'm just saying that jerks who think the metric system is naturally superior are, well -- jerks.

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Thursday, May 18th, 2017
5:12 pm - Screwing around
My attempt to assemble the light box for our stained glass project came to little yesterday. I knew I would have to pre-drill the screw holes in the oak boards; however, no matter how big a bit I used, the screws kept seizing up and twisting off in my hand. Working with stained glass teaches you that when you start messing up, it's time to quit, rest, and regroup. Carpentry is much the same. Rather than butcher the job entirely, I knocked off and decided to seek help the next day.

This morning, I went down to Kleindorfer's and explained my problem. Kleindorfer's is an old-fashioned hardware store. Unlike Menard's or Lowe's, they have more in the way of basic components than just kits; indeed, if you're looking for just one left-handed doohickey, they've probably got it in a bin somewhere. Their sales people are also more knowledgeable (and helpful) than the chain stores.

Suggestion number one: to put screws into really tight wood, treat the screws with beeswax first. Suggestion number two: use a tapered drill bit. Having imparted this wisdom, the clerk took me right to a bunch of things hanging on a wall and took down a No. 8 Screw Setter bit. It would do my screws with no by-guess-and-by-golly, and would drill out a set for the head as well. I asked if they had any beeswax. Of course they did.

So, I have spent three hours this afternoon drilling and screwing, and I'm all but caught up to where I need to be. The screws went in like butter, by the way.

This old dog is learning a really important new trick: On any scratch building project, you know you're going to wind up at Kleindorfer's at last; you might as well go there at first from now on.

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Wednesday, May 17th, 2017
2:01 pm - This is what it all comes down to
All group decisions are binding upon the members of the group. United Methodist positions on doctrine and discipline are bigger deals than, say, a financial policy or the decision to close a camp or a requirement to file reports a certain way. But, whether the matter is of prime importance or mere convenience, there is a way that every body -- including our denomination -- makes decisions, and those decisions are not optional for those within the body.

Every decision made by the whole body according to its designated processes binds every member of the body. And unless the decision comes with "outs" of some sort (allowing for personal discretion or something), every member of the body has only two options: to submit or to leave.

This is not tyranny, it's just the way group life works. I've lost any number of votes in the Annual Conference over the years. I've seen things required by General Conference, or by BSA's National Council, or by other groups I'm a member of, that I didn't much care for. But that's irrelevant. As long as I remain a member of those groups, I have to follow the rules as given, however much I might grumble about them. All of us do this all the time.

Some people, of course, dislike a given decision so much that they leave the group. That's okay. We don't love you less because you've left us. We're genuinely sorry to lose you, but if you feel you would be sacrificing your integrity to do it the way we are now doing it, then God bless you. I'll still be your friend. But far better to leave with integrity than stay and refuse to obey the rules we all pledged we would follow.

In The UMC, of course, we have a group of people who refuse to either submit to the rules as given or to leave with their integrity. They say they're staying in for conscience' sake, to try to rescue all of us from our immoral rules. Well, they're welcome to keep trying to persuade us to change the rules, if that's what they think we ought to do; however, they are not welcome to disobey the rules without consequences.

The choice is submit or leave. But if you will do neither of those, then in the end, we will have to expel you. Not because we are hateful bigots, but because you refuse to do what you promised to do in your vows, and what every member of every group everywhere has to do for the group to function.

In the end, we cannot force you to do what's right. But we can remove you if you won't leave voluntarily. And that will re-establish the normal habits of obedience within which we who remain can continue to debate all manner of actions on behalf of the group as a whole.

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Tuesday, May 16th, 2017
10:25 pm - Stop the presses!
Enter RUMOUR, painted full of tongues.
-- Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part Two

Our United Methodist Church is being shaken by all kinds of things these days. We are heading for a showdown between the progressives and the orthodox, though those are not the only two parties involved, and the final recommendations of the Bishops' Commission on a Way Forward may please neither of them.

The Commission's report is a good way off. Next year, at least. Then there's a called General Conference in 2019. But some people can't wait to hear what will be offered up, or what will be done about it. Rumors are flying, and all kinds of crazy things are being attributed to people in the know. But there's nothing to know yet, and all the responsible participants are respecting their vows of confidentiality and not talking about it. So where is this coming from?

Nature abhors a vacuum, they say, and when there is nothing to report, some people get so uncomfortable that they have to fill the silence with something. Some of them are speaking from their fears. And some are speaking from their hopes. They are both being foolish. They need to learn to wait upon the Lord. Or at least, wait upon events. The future will get here in its own time, and neither our fears nor our hopes will make it better -- or cushion the shock, if that's what it turns out to be.

A third group, however, is not speaking from hopes or fears. They are trying to drive the narrative. They think that they can shape the way things turn out, pre-condition how people will receive the report of the Commission when it comes. They have a very specific way they want things to turn out, and they're trying out various word combinations to see what they can use to make whatever is revealed work to the advantage of what they want to come out of the process. They are not foolish, they are manipulative little squits.

Among the manipulative little squits are a lot of people who write for the official denominational press. It's their job to put lipstick on every pig, and make every narrative support their idea of what the future should be. They don't just report what's going on -- they can't, in fact, because they don't know -- but they are sure trying to pre-determine who the good guys and bad guys will be seen to be in the upcoming drama.

Now, I've been around a long time. I've seen disgraceful things done in the name of the church -- and I've seen God overturn all the nicely prepared apple carts. I'm not cynical, I'm experienced. I will not be rushed or panicked or flustered about this. My faith is not at risk. God is on the throne. We will all see what happens when it happens. Now is the time to pray -- and also to prepare. But not to listen to gossip. Not even hot-off-the-presses gossip.

Have you heard? It's in the stars:
Next July we collide with Mars!
What a swell party this is.

-- Cole Porter, High Society

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9:55 pm - Long, hard day
I either left my glasses in the cabin or I dropped them on the drive getting my stuff in the truck; however, they were my old glasses. My new glasses, which I got yesterday and hadn't started wearing yet, were still waiting in their case when I got home. So no harm, no foul, except my tired eyes are having a hard time adapting to the new lenses as I work on this computer.

I went over to Wilderstead for the day. I hadn't been over there in quite some time, and I was anxious to see how the holler had weathered the storms we had. My road seems to be eroding, but the cabin was in good shape, and everything else was as one might expect. I checked in with my neighbor who is supposed to come fetch my tractor and get it in shape to be used. He hasn't been able to get in his fields yet, but he's been too busy to work on my tractor. A tornado took the roof off his house a couple weeks ago and dropped it on his barn. *boggle*

Anyway, once on site, I got out my 22" string trimmer to mow trails. Getting it started after a year in storage was hard. Of course, if I'd remembered to prime the blasted thing before wearing myself out cranking it, that would have helped. It was still a bit slow, but some starter fluid fixed that in a hurry! I worked for an hour and the sun was burning down into the holler like a hammer striking an anvil. I decided to knock off and go to L'burg for some supplies.

When I got back, I finished mowing the trails, but by the time I got the mowing done, I was too bushed to drag everything back up the hill from the ford. I mean, seriously bushed, as in dizzy and weak. I was drinking water like crazy, but this was my first day of major activity this spring, and it was hard and hot. Eventually, I just roped the wagon and then the mower to the hitch of my truck and pulled them up the hill by backing up the road.

I rested and drank more water and slowly, slowly got everything put away. Got back home just after 9:00, twelve hours after leaving this morning. I brought back the string trimmer mower for our new rental house (we're responsible for mowing). I also brought back some decorative block, of which I have too much, to make a nice fire circle in the back yard for cooking out. But I was too tired to drop all that off on my way back. It'll have to wait until tomorrow.

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Sunday, May 14th, 2017
2:03 pm - Preview of Coming Attractions
This morning was the first time all the stained glass windows of our youth project have been placed side by side in their frames. This picture shows how they will be arranged in the light box (whose construction starts tomorrow). Once the box is finished and the lights wired up, we have a professional company ready to come in and anchor the whole shebang to the wall and wire it into the church's power supply. After the box is on the wall and ready, the last step will be to hang the windows in the box. Dedication is June 4 in morning worship.

Stained Glass Project

The Church is the Ark of Salvation

We got lots of affirmations this morning from church members; I am pleased. I think everyone will be proud to have this in the sanctuary. I spoke with two of three members of the 2014 confirmation class who designed and began this project three years ago. I told them the three boys would have to arm wrestle to see who the spokesman would be for the dedication. The others will stand beneath the windows with the other youth who helped to do the unveiling and first lighting.

So far, 21 children and youth and 8 adults have had a hand in this project, one way or another. All of their first names will be added to the windows in the gold divider sections running across the flanking windows. A complete list with full names will also be in the bulletin on June 4. The first youth to start this were turning twelve years old. The youngest to work on it was only seven years old when he started. They have cut and ground glass, covered edges in copper foil, soldered joints and turned screws. I believe in what kids can do!

The main display is 85.625" wide and 48.75" tall. The apsidal dove window adds yet more height to the whole. The light box will be 3.5" deep, using LED strips for illumination.

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Friday, May 12th, 2017
5:12 pm - Knotty thoughts
I was thinking over the seven Tenderfoot knots Scouts have been teaching for over a century. Some of these are really, really important to know if you're going to go camping. For that matter, they are very useful indoors, too. Others are all but useless, kept on for tradition's sake (IMHO).

I created a scale by which to judge these knots. I want to give my valuation of them and ask for your input. Consider it a poll of sorts.

5 (highest rating): Absolutely Essential. If you know no other knots, you need to know these. You will use them all the time in Scouting and camping and maybe even around the house.

4: Very Handy. You will use these frequently. Important to know.

3: Occasionally Useful. Yeah, probably worth learning.

2: Rarely Employed or Better Alternatives Available.

1: Basically Ornamental. Little practical use.

And here are my ratings.

Square Knot: 4. I mostly use this knot to tie up the plastic bags from the grocery store so the contents won't spill out all over my car on the way home, so I use this one a lot. On the rare occasions when I have to tie a bandage, it's also useful.

Sheet Bend: 4. The best way to join together two ropes. BSA dropped it from the required knots for a while, which bewildered me. It's back now, because there really isn't another knot that will do what the Sheet Bend can do, and we find uses for it on a lot of campouts.

Two Half Hitches: 3. Really the only use for this is to secure a line to a grommet on a fly or a volleyball net or post. An Overhand Knot would work, if not quite as well.

Taut Line Hitch: 5! This is the one indispensable knot to know for back country camping. You will use it all the time. It's what prevents your flies and tents from sagging and keeps tension on all manner of jury-rigged constructions.

Clove Hitch: 2. The Clove Hitch has only two uses, really. One is to tie a horse to a post -- which is great if you're a horseman, but most of us aren't. The other is in making various lashings, where you could often substitute a Timber Hitch. Plus, Clove Hitches tend to fall apart, even when they're tied correctly.

Timber Hitch: 3. Very secure knot with a quick release, good for use in lashings and moving large, bulky things like logs.

Bowline: 1. Seriously, why do we keep teaching this knot? Yeah, it's nice to be able to tie a loop knot that will not slip, but very few of us do any mountaineering or rappelling, and when we do, we usually use pre-made harnesses. We expend far too much effort to teach this difficult knot to boys when we could be teaching them something else they'd actually use.

Let me know your valuation of these basic knots. Which other knots do you think we should teach Scouts? The Miller's Knot? Surgeon's Knot? The Better Bow?

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Thursday, May 11th, 2017
11:16 pm - A wake-up call of sorts
So, the LDS Church is dropping their participation in Varsity Scouting and Venturing, the older youth programs of BSA. Some may be quick to say this has to do with fractures between the Mormons and the Scouts over sexuality issues. Those issues don't help, but there's more to this than just gay or transgender people.

The LDS Church has used BSA programs as their official -- and required -- youth programs for boys and young men for many, many years. They have adapted those programs to suit their unique needs. Mormon Scouting is, in some ways, a different kind of animal from the Scouting that most of us know. Not so different that you wouldn't recognize the activities and ethos of Scouting, but still, it has some special attributes other Scouting programs don't have. Most Mormon boys are in LDS Packs and Troops, and few non-Mormons (at least here, where LDS is a minority religion) participate in LDS-chartered units.

The LDS point out that older boys' interest in Scouting -- including and especially Varsity and Venturing -- declines rapidly after age 14. The older boys -- young men, really -- have other interests. The LDS Church wants to create a youth program that will meet their needs. In doing so, they will only be doing what all the rest of us religious charter partners do. I mean, we United Methodists emphasize that Scouting is only one doorway into the church, along with UMYF and Sunday school and choirs and youth sports and so on. Some youth will do more than one program you offer, but none of them will do every program you offer. Some will only make a connection with you over one particular program or event. Which is why you need an assortment of entry points for people -- of all ages.

The loss of LDS participation in Varsity Scouting will probably doom that program. It was created largely to meet LDS needs, and has never been popular outside LDS circles. And the loss of LDS participation in Venturing will put further stresses on that program, which suffers from an identity crisis that has been part of it since before it was Venturing. The old Explorer program wrestled with the same issues. What is this program? Who is it for? How do we find the youth who want what we're offering?

I have witnessed Venturing morph into something I call Boy-Scouting-in-a-forest-green-shirt. This is because most people don't "get" Venturing, so they keep trying to do it as an example of something they do know, which is Boy Scouting. Indeed, there are very few Venturing Crews that operate successful independent programs in our Council. Crew 119 has been a very successful example of the program, and Crew 699, which Deanne and I led for eight years at Tanner Valley, was another such.

But if BSA doesn't know what to do with Venturing, neither do the churches which charter the Crews. I have spent years teaching Church Growth and Missiology models that illustrate how to use Scouting as ministry, with (I'm afraid) limited success. That doesn't mean that I haven't had ministry success with Venturing (and other forms of Scouting); it just means that it's very hard to get people -- both in the church and in Scouting -- to replicate the approach.

In September, I will be on the staff of the Indiana Conference UM Scouting Retreat at Camp Indicoso. Mostly, my job will be cooking for the expected one hundred participants, but I'll also do a workshop. We continue to explore how to meet the spiritual needs of youth through United Methodist Scouting, which for us includes the programs of the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts of the USA, Camp Fire, 4-H, the Amachi program of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, American Heritage Girls, Trail Life, and anything else that quacks like a duck. We understand Scouting to be one of many programs and groups that we use to disciple children, youth, and their families -- along with Chrysalis/Walk to Emmaus, Sunday School, UMYF, mission trips and projects, music programs, sports programs, Covenant Discipleship groups, Bible studies, after-school programs, and so on.

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Tuesday, May 9th, 2017
2:47 pm - To friends near and far
This is the letter we sent out to our Christmas card list. So, for everybody else, here is what's happening to us in just seven more weeks. Please note the invitation in the last paragraph.


Greetings from the Collins household! No, it’s not Christmas; that’s not why we’re sending you this out-of-season letter.

This letter is to announce that Arthur is retiring, effective June 30, 2017, after forty-one years of ministry. Our new address, effective June 1, 2017, will be:
3721 W. Tapp Rd.
Bloomington, IN 47403
Our cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses will remain the same. We will not have a land-line phone.

For the next two or three years, at least, Deanne plans on continuing in her job as a counselor for Hamilton Center in Spencer and Greencastle. Arthur’s main job will be to build our retirement house out at Wilderstead, in Ohio County (for which your prayers are greatly coveted).

In the meantime, there are many things still to be done here, including Arthur’s last high adventure trip with Venturing Crew 119. They are headed for Kandersteg, Switzerland, from June 11-20. Between now and then there is much packing to do, and a fair amount of down-sizing to be attempted.

Arthur’s last Sunday at Ellettsville First United Methodist Church will be June 25. The service starts at 9:30 a.m., and his sermon title is “The Last Word.” If you or anyone you know who has been touched by our ministry through the years would like to be present for that service, it would be wonderful. If you would like to send greetings and reminiscences, please send them to Arthur at the church, PO Box 548, Ellettsville, IN 47429, before June 23.

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