good news

Celebrating Progress at Wilderstead

After the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942, Winston Churchill told Parliament, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Which is how I feel about the point I reached today at Wilderstead.

I hoisted the last two beams into place today. I also pegged all the beams together with pole barn nails and applied construction adhesive in all the cracks and crevices I could find. I finished nailing all loose beams to their sill plates. It's a good place to stop.


Beams, from the back fence


Beams, from the path below

Next week, I will go out to Wilderstead and clean the cabin. It's been used as a workshop and tool shed all year, and it's a tip. Don't know if we'll have any parties out there around Yule, but at least I want to start the new year with a clean cabin. Then, I think I'll knock off for a while.

The electrician is still trying to get the guy who does the deep boring out there, and when he does, we'll get to working on the electricity. Sometime this winter, we should finally get power in the holler. And I have some other estimates being worked up for other things -- ditching, putting in a culvert. Meanwhile, I have five more concrete forms to build at my home here in B-town while the weather is doing its winter thing.

I figure by March, it'll be warm enough (and maybe occasionally, dry enough) to get back out there. Finish the concrete emplacements (for additional supports), hang joists, install bridges between joists, etc. If all goes well, I might actually start building a stud wall on the platform by June 1.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. It is enough to celebrate today's work, and give thanks to God for health and strength and money and everything else that makes this possible.
hound of heaven

Staying friends

As The UMC tears itself apart, more and more people are looking past the next few months to try to imagine what will be left of their church. Will only a few hotheads leave? Will the US progressives manage to seal themselves off from accountability with the proposed US Regional Conference? Will the Africans go off on their own? Nobody knows. But not many think things can be maintained as they are.

That means that people I have shared my life with -- friends of long standing, partners in ministry -- will likely wind up on the other side of a great divide from me. That is very sad. But it doesn't mean that we have to be ugly to each other in the run-up to the Great Cookie Crumble.

I have friends in other denominations who have different standards from mine. We remain friends. I have had many friendly relations with clergy and Scouters who belong to non-Christian (or non-standard-Christian) bodies. We get along fine. I have friends who believe in nothing supernatural at all. I have friends who want to be pagans. We don't have to believe the same things or adhere to the same standards to treat each other as we wish to be treated.

The pressure is on right now, pressure to choose sides. And if we have to choose sides, to fight with whatever weapons lie to hand, including scorn and obloquy. But we don't have to. The day will come when we will face each other again, perhaps as members of different bodies. At which time, I hope we may continue to be friends. Maybe even cooperate on things occasionally.

So, on questions of conscience, let each decide where to stand. And if we differ, may we not let those things upon which we disagree make us bitter toward each other. There will be an After.
round tuit

Things I have learned

You will never get it all done. Never. Not all of it. As soon as you've checked off almost everything on your To Do list, there will be more things to put on it. This means that if you are wearing yourself out to get it all done before you can rest, you will never rest.

I spent over forty years in professional ministry. There are far too many "must do's" in a clergy schedule. Clergy are also, on the whole, a driven lot -- goal-oriented to the point of obsession. And (what is less acknowledged), many suffer from the need for affirmation from others; if they don't get affirmed -- or if they get criticized -- they suffer self-doubt, depression, and all the attendant ills thereunto appertaining. Which makes them work even harder, but with their bodies and souls in a state of strain which makes it even more tiring. Certain times of the year -- like the run-up to Christmas -- are unbelievably draining.

I won't belabor the point. If you're one of us, you know who you are.

The important point is to realize that you can only shift so many bales of stuff a day. We need to prioritize which bales are the most important to shift today. We need to organize big projects so they are accomplished in small chunks, too. But however much progress is made -- win, lose, or draw -- you can only shift so many bales a day. When you've done that, you need to quit.

Knock off. Do something fun. Take a nap. Spend time with your family. You don't have to feel guilty about it. You've shifted all the bales you could today. As long as you've knocked something off your To Do list, you've earned some time off. And every now and then, put a whole day off on that calendar. All the stuff will be there to do when you get back to it.

This is one of the hardest things I have ever had to learn. It's easier now, in retirement, but I still struggle with it. Accept the grace of God and take care of yourself.
fudd tenor

Sing a new song

Our church has a program of offering voice lessons to youth. Three of them sang in church yesterday. I appreciate their contributions, so don't think I'm talking them down when I say that they had their challenges. (As Beverly Sills used to say, anyone who sings before 11 a.m. should be paid double.)

All three were about seventh grade, I'd say. And they were all try to sing above their natural range (which was probably alto). They were all nervous, which tightens up one's throat and robs one of breath support. Anyone attempting to sing at the extremes of one's range really needs to get the butterflies out before stepping up, but that's not the only problem here.

All three were singing religious music written in the pop music style. Most pop music is written too high for the average singer to comfortably sing. This is not a new problem. If these youth want to sing along with Amy Grant, my generation sang along with John Denver. We're in soprano/first tenor range here. Even John Fogarty of the old CCR may have sounded all gravelly baritone, but the pitch he was singing at was pure tenor. The person working with them needs to help them identify songs within their range, or work to lower the key.

Unfortunately, you can't lower the key on karaoke. And that's not the only problem with recorded accompaniment. The great advantage to a live pianist is that the notes struck resonate in one's skull, making it easy to match the pitch of the instrument. Singing to electronic music (especially the tinkly, shimmering sound of many pop pieces) is very difficult. You have to be really comfortable hitting your pitch.

So, kudos to the kiddos. I appreciate your moxie. You survived the performance, and that's the first priority. But to the teacher, I'd say: You can help them do better by guiding them in their selection of performance pieces and arranging for live accompaniment. If I were directing them, that's what I'd do. And when they have more satisfying results, they'll have the confidence to attempt more and greater than they did before.
lindisfarne gospels

From the sermon barrel

Memories of Christmas
Isaiah 11:1-9
First preached November 29, 2015

Christmas approaches, and with it comes a flood of memories, including memories of the promises given in Scripture, such as Isaiah’s here. Israel’s long wait for Messiah was finally rewarded, but nobody much noticed. And we are still waiting for the final outworking of the promises given here – of peace, and reconciliation, and for the earth to be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah references little children several times in this passage, and I believe that God speaks to us even in our childhood – even before we know who it is who is speaking to us – and his word is only later confirmed to be his as we grow up. But part of the promised “knowledge of the Lord” is surely what the Holy Spirit whispers to us even before we know we are hearing it, and some of the lessons we learn in childhood, unbidden, stay with us for the rest of our lives.Collapse )

Basic words

In Old English the words dead and deaþ (death) are both pronounced with two syllables. Their root would have been *diegan, though this is never recorded in OE texts. Perhaps it passed out of usage at an early stage (to re-appear in Middle English as dege (pr. dee). OE usually used words such as steorfan (starve, cf. German sterben), or resorted to euphemisms such as forðgan (lit., go forth, go away).

In any case, the adjective dead shows the participial form that so many English adjectives are constructed from. In origin, dead is the old way to say "died." Likewise, "death" shows the -th ending that we use in English for so many nouns describing a quality: warmth (the condition of being warm), tilth (ground being tilled, that is, farmed), strength (the quality of being strong), death (the condition of being dead).

Underneath our bloated vocabulary, stolen from every language on earth, English retains its Germanic structure. The basic building blocks of our language go back over sixteen hundred years to the cluster of mutually intelligible dialects spoken by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians.

Thanksgiving is for loved ones

Herewith, some pix from the day. I was up early. Hera joined me for my morning cruise of the internet.


Hera, Lap Cat

Then, it was off to pick up Zach and head for Richmond for the celebration of plenty.


Anna giving me the bird


Pre-dinner games


After-dinner nap.

I joined Zach on the couch for this one. When I finished my nap, I got up and ate pie.

Marks of the Church

I was thinking yesterday of how one would go about looking for a church to be part of. What are the distinguishing characteristics of a good congregation? That led me on to consider what would be of most importance if we were launching a new denomination (as, indeed, we may be before long).

I came up with a list of four characteristics, four things I would be looking for. Now, different people rate these characteristics in different ways. I suppose, in the end, if all four are present it doesn’t matter which most impressed you in your search. So these are the things I thought of as of first importance, in no particular order (or maybe only, my preferred order).

Doctrine. What are they teaching? Is Jesus lifted up? Are the great definitions in the creeds actually followed? How do they use the Bible, and how seriously do they take it?

Worship. Making disciples may be the primary task of the Church, but worship is the first thing we do. Is the worship well done? Does it bring us into communion with God, or can we just brag about its production values?

Program. Beyond the weekly worship service, what do we do? What activities are there to build up the people in the church, and what activities are there to minister to people in the community? Is there a solid missions program? Christian education?

Relationships. Do these people actually love each other? More to the point, will they love me? How do they operate with each other? Too many of our “friendly” churches are riven by jealousies and driven by complaints.

Well, that’s my short list. And when I set it down, I remembered the four Marks of the Church from the creeds: the Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. And I thought, Doctrine: that’s catholicity. Worship: that’s holiness. Program: that’s apostolic. Relationships: that’s unity.

How well does your congregation or denomination stack up against these criteria? What could you do to make it better?
lindisfarne gospels

The Tree of Life? Take a right, just past the boiled peanut stand

Since retiring, I have heard a lot more of others’ preaching than I did while I was living under the Sunday deadline myself. And I’ve noticed something about the way some preachers* approach descriptions of heaven in the Bible. They have no feel for poetry, for symbolism. For instance, many of the images in the Book of Revelation convey the splendor of the court of heaven, or of the New Jerusalem. But when you think about it, Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin is also an image of splendor; it’s just a vulgar image.

Listening to some preachers describe what awaits us in heaven is like listening to a tour guide extolling the wonders of the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. “But this one’s even bigger, and it’s made of gold!” As if the desire of my soul were to finally get to see some oversized tourist prop and get my picture taken beside it: heaven as the Vegas Strip.

In a vision (as in Revelation), the appearance of a thing is its meaning. We are not seeing the denizens of heaven as they appear to themselves, at home with their feet up (so to speak). The measurements given of things are not translatable into miles or feet. The images are supposed to speak to our minds, and below our minds to the depths of our souls. The preacher’s task is not only to explain what the images mean, but to address the thing within us that responds to the image.

The preacher must address the desire of our souls, which we struggle to articulate for ourselves; once it is said, of course, it seems obvious, but we’d never thought about it that way until the preacher said it like that. That is the preacher’s task. He or she is a preacher precisely because he or she can say what we cannot say, unaided: to reveal ourselves to ourselves, and the answer to the riddle of ourselves in Jesus Christ. To chatter, with ever greater hyperbole, about the surfaces of things without addressing the depths is the trade of the carnival barker. Preachers should aspire to do better than that.

*The same obtuseness is evident in a lot of evangelical publishing.
compass rose

The Bewilderment of the Boy Scouts

Daniel Boone is said to have claimed that he had never gotten lost in the wilderness, though he had once been “bewildered” for about three days. To those looking on from the outside, the Boy Scouts of America look like they’re lost these days; meanwhile, I’m hoping they’re merely bewildered and will soon figure out how to get where they need to be. This post is for my friends outside of Scouting who keep asking me what’s going on. It should be noted that I claim no insider knowledge, but I hear things, and I "know people who know people,” and all that.

BSA has gone through a great many shocks in recent years. To understand where they are these days, we need to look at the things that they have faced and the way they’ve attempted to deal with them.Collapse )