On the sacraments

Why must the sacraments use material means? Because God intends to raise matter to a higher form. The Gnostics of the 2nd Century stayed away from communion because it bugged them. They didn’t believe in the redemption of matter, in the resurrection of the body. They were believers in spirit-only for spirit-only.

This doesn’t mean we have to be authenticity freaks, regulating the amount of water or the exact content of the bread – though there are Christians who do that. But still, bread and wine (of some sort) is necessary for communion. Water is necessary for baptism (even if it’s just the water in one’s blood – martyrs killed before baptism were said to have been “baptized in their blood”).

Relationship is important, too. This is a church thing. The sacraments are about our covenant with God and each other. Outsiders become insiders through them, but outsiders who aren’t interested in coming IN are advised to refrain from going through the motions without faith.

Relationships require two things here: Faith (someone’s faith) in God, and physical proximity, in order to establish or strengthen the covenant. We need to be addressing ourselves to each other through God, and we need to be in the same space.

The closest natural analogy to the sacraments is marriage; indeed, marriage is often called “a natural sacrament.” No particular legal form – or even any priestly blessing – was required for a valid marriage in western Christianity until 1215. And common law marriage was regarded as legal throughout the Anglo-American world until very recently (turn of the last century in Indiana, IIRC).

But essential to the enactment of a proper marriage covenant are two things: Matter (in this case, our bodies), and Relationship (the proper partner, free consent, the intent to form a true marriage, and the joining of bodies). You could be married by long distance telephone call or internet, but you wouldn’t have much of a marriage until you’d gotten together in the same room. Likewise, you could go down to the courthouse under today’s legal regime and “get married” to the fourth stranger stepping off a bus, and then never see each other again. But again, you wouldn’t have much of a marriage.

Marriage is about sex – the channeling of love through material means. And it’s about promises. It can sustain a lot of separation, but it needs to be engaged in mutually. And doing it haphazardly causes enormous heartache.

Christianity is not merely spiritual. It’s material, too. In fact, it is about the most stubbornly material of all major religions. That’s because it is ultimately about the redemption of matter, the raising of our material bodies to a new and imperishable form. And, of course, Christianity is about relationships. It’s about love. It’s a covenant whose major acts are done through person-to-person contact. Assuming that everything really important can be done online is cheap grace.

It’s not that I’m against modernity. Technology is a wonderful thing. But I want to give away real treasure, not fairy gold, to my fellow Christians.

Years ago, I was at a luncheon with other pastors when the waitress came and found me, saying that my District office was trying to locate me. I went to the house phone and was told that one of my parishioners and his two teen-aged sons had been hit by a coal truck and had been rushed to the hospital. I went back, white-faced, to tell the group I had to go. I rushed to the hospital, reaching it even before the the driver's wife. I saw Mark (the dad/principal victim) being wheeled rapidly toward the operating room, his head wrapped in gauze. I approached. I didn’t even have to say anything (indeed, I didn’t know what to say). The attendants just stopped for me, right there in the hallway. I laid a hand lightly on Mark and prayed briefly. Then I stepped back and they rushed him on into emergency surgery.

Now, if I couldn’t have touched him, it would have been all right. Certainly, we all prayed through the next several hours in the waiting room, and I presume those prayers were sincere (they were also effective; Mark pulled through). What, then, was the value of my laying hands on Mark and praying in the hallway – what was so obviously right and good about that that hospital attendants would stop – when seconds counted – to let me do it?

Because matter matters. Relationship matters. Sometimes you can’t do as you’d like, but always, doing it the best you can is a good and right thing.

Doing the sacraments well – even if you have to go to extreme lengths to do them well – matters. “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ nourish your soul and body unto everlasting life.”
hound of heaven

Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together

Several churches have been in the news lately for continuing to meet despite the danger of spreading the COVID-19 virus. One pastor in Florida was arrested for this and charged with a misdemeanor. The intertubes have been clogged with shock, outrage, and sermonizing concerning these churches, charging them with greed, cultish behavior, selfishness in endangering others, etc.

For the record, I think these churches are being foolish. And insofar as they constitute a danger to their fellow citizens, I think the authorities' requiring of them not to gather in these numbers is proper.

But all that said, I don't think these people deserve the abuse that has been rained upon them. Foolish or arrogant as they may be, these pastors are doing what pastors normally do in a crisis: gather the flock to petition God for mercy and to speak comfort to frightened people. And in any other kind of emergency, they would be doing the exactly right thing in these circumstances. Remember how full the churches were the Sunday after 9/11/2001? Think about all those natural disasters, where church teams would form in the aftermath to aid in recovery efforts and in efforts to mitigate the suffering of those affected.

This time is different, I know. Please do not lecture me One. More. Time. on how we need to practice social isolation or wash hands, etc. as an act of love for others. I'm not advocating mass gatherings.

I'm just saying that these people who are doing so are misguided, not evil. They are still in the denial stage of their fear and grief and haven't caught up to where everyone else is. They are reacting quite normally; social isolation is a counter-intuitive response that has to be learned. They do not deserve the abuse I read on social media, especially from other Christians.

We need to correct them in as gentle a manner as we can. And we need to remind each other that one's cause does not become more righteous by the savagery with which one expresses it.
wayside cross

The pestilence that stalks in darkness

Yes, I'm being followed by a moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow
Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow

Cat Stevens (now, Yusuf Islam) said a few years ago of his song, "Moonshadow," that its inspiration was a happy trip to Spain as a young man. Away from city lights, he delighted in a bright moon that cast his shadow on the ground. But songs acquire myths to explain them when the artist does not. The tale going around when I was in college (and this song was new) was that Stevens had been very ill with some disease (rumored to be tuberculosis) and he was living with the fear of its return.

Certainly, the song can give the impression of something stalking the singer, threatening his life to where he faces the loss of his hands, his legs, his eyes, his mouth, to which he can only reply, "Oh if -- I won't have to work/walk/cry/[talk] no more." And the song's bridge speaks of "the faithful light," asking, "Did it take long to find me?"

Those who have lived long with some ill-repressed fear resonate to the myth surrounding the song. I watched my father die of ALS. Nine months on a ventilator, the last five in a coma. At least once a week, I was there by his bedside. The horror of it stayed with me for a long time. And for years, every time I felt a wee bit "off" -- my legs were tired (ALS can start in the legs!) or I was clumsy with my hands, or when seasonal allergies (which I had never suffered from before) began to make me hack up mucus -- I thought, "oh no -- what if this is ALS?" And then, I went through a run of several years where I had three different parishioners end their lives on ventilators; none had ALS, but I can't describe how I felt putting on my pastor face to go and support them in their hospitalizations.

Recently, a boy who used to be a parishioner, a survivor of childhood leukemia, received a fresh diagnosis of its return. He just missed his one-year anniversary of being cancer-free. So now, he's in the hospital, starting all over. The coronavirus outbreak has stranded him and his mom in the hospital and left his dad and two older siblings on their own. I don't know when he'll be able to come home. But when he went in, I tried to imagine how he must be feeling, and I remembered this song and its myth. He's probably never heard it; he's only fourteen.

Meanwhile, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads, a lot of people are feeling scared. Anybody could be sick. You could catch the virus from all kinds of people, from touching all kinds of usual objects. Some are compulsively cleaning (not but what most of us could be better at house cleaning, for sure). Others deal with it in other ways. But the fear is very real, of this -- thing -- this shadow that is stalking -- them? Even them?

In the end, all you can do is to put your life in God's hands. Believe the promises of Jesus. Practice the peace of the holy Spirit. Go about your daily tasks. Don't be stupid, but don't obsess over it. All of us die, sometime, but wasting your days in anguish caused by your overactive imagination will not only get in your way of doing what needs to be done, but suck all the joy that could be had out of your days.

The Psalmist must have been feeling somewhat like that, when he wrote (Ps. 91:3-6),
For [God] will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
In fact, I'd recommend reading all of Psalm 91, if you're looking for something to hang onto in these fearful times.
wile e.

Posting over and over

Yesterday I spent the afternoon cutting up 6x6 posts to previous measure. Eleven of them, in all.

This morning I scurried over to Wilderstead and was on site before 10:30. My first hour was spent installing the 6x6 posts, using a sledgehammer and a post level. Then I took a break and mixed a small sack of concrete to do some erosion control on the stair-fall leading down to the Pishon. Next I rode my tractor across the creek to do some chainsaw work (because I was too tired to lug the saw and I didn't want to get my feet wet).

By this time, it was rising one o'clock, and I had to get done by two. I took my drill and screwed in corner braces on both sides of all eleven posts. They're not going anywhere, now. I replaced some weatherstripping on my cabin door, swept the place out, and boogied for home in order to take part in a 5:15 Zoom meeting.

All in all, a great day, a beautiful day. Social distancing at its best.


I've sure been posting a lot today
hound of heaven

One of my favorite passages to reflect upon

Sae lat a man pit us doon as actin for Christ; as awmoners o' God's secret things. And here, too, it is necessar that awmoners be fund honest. But wi' me, it is a sma' thing that I soud be judged by you, or on man's day; aye! I am-na e'en judgin mysel.

For I ken nocht to wyte mysel wi'; but this disna macht me richtous. But he wha judges me is the Lord. And sae, judge nocht owersune, till the time the Lord comes, wha wull baith mak plain the hidlin things o' the mirkness, and will schaw the thochts o' the hearts: and than, ilk ane's commendin sal come frae God.

But thir things, brethren, I hae (sae to speak), taen to mysel and Apollos, for yere sakes; sae as in us, ye micht learn the lear, no to gang ayont what is putten-doon: that ye soudna be swallin yersels up, ilk ane again anither. For wha maks a differ atween ye? And what hae ye that ye didna receive? Noo, gin ye received it, why soud ye swall up yersel as gin ye didna receive it? E'en noo hae ye become staw'd; e'en noo hae ye become rich: allenarlie, and sindry frae us, ye hae gotten to be kings! and I wad ye war kings, that e'en we micht reign alang w'ye.

For sae it seems to me; God has set forth us, the Apostles hinmaist; as gien ower to the deid: for a spectacle are we made to the warld -- to Angels and to men. We are made fules for the name o' Christ: but ye are wyss in Christ: we are feckless, but ye are strang: ye are honored, but we dishonored. E'en to this 'oor, we hae hung'er, and drooth, and nakitness; are clour'd, and cuisten-oot; We toil, workin wi' our ain hauns; whan misca'd, we bless; whan persecutit, we thole it. Whan defamed, we entreat; we are made as the midden-heap o' the warld; the dightins and orts o' a' things, e'en to this day.

No to shame ye dae I say thir things; on the contrar, I admonish ye as my weel-lo'ed bairns. For it may be that ye hae ten thoosand teachers in Christ, yet surely no mony faithers -- for in Christ Jesus, I becam yer faither i' the Joyfu'-message. I entreat ye than, that ye be as I am.

-- 1 Corinthians 4:1-16, The New Testament in Braid Scots, by William Wye Smith

Take thou authority

I am an elder in The United Methodist Church. That means I have permanent, world-wide authority to preach, baptize, confirm, celebrate the eucharist, officiate at weddings, preside at Charge Conferences, etc. Even though I am retired, I keep my authority, and my Conference membership, for life.


There are requirements placed on me. My authority can be taken away from me if I misbehave. My Conference membership also requires that I file reports from time to time. But more than that, I am bound to the other clergy. What do I mean?Collapse )

Progressivism and Power

One of the first principles of progressive political philosophy is the undifferentiated nature of Power. Whether Mussolini or Wilson, progressivism hungers for Power to do -- everything. It rejects the American Founding, which placed limits upon Power, and set Power against Power, so that one must always ask, "Power to do what?" when considering any office or body within our constitutional system. Progressives believe that power-to-do-what is irrelevant. Likewise, they reject the idea that different kinds of power reside in different bailiwicks. Enumerated powers? Checks and Balances? No. All Power is just -- Power, Power to do everything.

Thus you have Woodrow Wilson trying to consolidate power in the presidency to get past the slow, muddled Congress. You have Barack "I Am Not a King" Obama and his executive orders and the subversion of the IRS and the lawlessness of his DOJ. You have progressive Supreme Court justices saying that the Constitution is a "living Constitution" -- that is, it can be amended by judges' opinions, without the slow and aggravating requirement of passing and ratifying amendments in the manner specified in the Constitution itself.

The only difference progressives acknowledge about Power (in theory) is that there is Less Power and More Power. If you're the Big Kahuna, you get to do what you want. Anything that you want. Even so, those with lesser Power feel free to challenge you at every opportunity, attempting to steal the initiative and get their stuff done.

So you have local city councils declaring themselves "sanctuary cities," challenging the entire national power structure with their defiance. You have federal district judges issuing sweeping injunctions for the whole country because they don't like the fact that Donald Trump is President. You have Democratic Congressional minorities that are constantly pushing the envelope against the majority, then clamping down when they get the majority. You have one house of Congress attempting to strong-arm the other house and the president, too. They all invade each other's prerogatives because they are so impatient. We have Power. Now, we want to get stuff DONE.

I'll leave for a moment the question of what it is they think needs doing. This is not a blast against the progressive political agenda. This is about Progressivism, per se, an ideology that crosses disciplines. Progressivism is certainly rampant in American religious denominations, particularly the Mainline Protestant Churches.

You can see it in how the UMC elites behave. Bishops issue decrees forbidding things they have no authority to stop, permitting things they have no authority to start, renaming offices described in the Book of Discipline, announcing rules for the entire UMC nobody voted for, dismissing complaints and calling it "just resolutions," making it up as they go along. Pastors do the same thing, appealing to "justice" or "[my view of] the Bible" to do whatever they want. Everyone wants to be the author of the Hot New Trend, with an insight into the Bible no one's ever seen before or the practice no one else has tried before. Ego plays a large part in this kind of leadership. I don't necessarily believe this because I think it's right, it must be right because I thought of it. And if I'm the Guy Up Front, then that's what I'm going to do -- and all the paid staff and inner circle laity (who stand to lose position if they demur) cry hosannas and we're off and running. Boards of Ordained Ministry, Annual Conferences, general agencies -- they all just make it up, then say, "the Church has spoken." And if people shrug and go on with things -- which they mostly do -- then that becomes SOP until the next push. And, of course, you have people who promised to obey the rules defying the rules and daring others to charge them with offenses. UM teaching and practice has become "whatever you can get away with."

But UM polity wasn't set up to be like that. Bishops and Elders and Deacons and LLPs and laity have different abilities. Sometimes, they work together, sometimes they work separately. Some can do some things but not others. Each can require certain things of the others. Meanwhile, General Conference has powers no one else has, but not unlimited power; the Judicial Council has a lot to say about sweeping changes passed in haste, and there are also the Restrictive Rules. Only Jurisdictions can elect bishops. And so on. UM polity is set up to run kind of like the federal government, with power differentiated and with checks and balances. Progressives don't like that.

Progressivism likes Power to make people do things. It has no sense of boundaries, acknowledges no private sphere in which the citizen or the church member, the employee or the student can just do as one likes. Everyone must be hectored and dragooned into being virtuous. And, of course, virtuous is whatever the elites say it is. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk would like us all to be thankful for being made into medieval serfs, while they occupy the halls of power and jet around to their next rule-making confab. Progressivism also has little patience with the idea of due process; if you're accused, you're guilty -- if you belong to the other side, anyway. But progressivism likes "substantive due process," which is constitutional jargon for "making stuff up" that you can't find any support for in the Constitution.

Progressivism is touted in our schools. People point to Sen. LaFollette, to Teddy Roosevelt, to journalist Ida Tarbell, etc. But Woodrow Wilson was also a Progressive. TR may have given us lots of conservation areas, but Wilson gave us the Sedition Act of 1917, wartime socialism, and official propaganda. People in this country admired Mussolini, who "made the trains run on time." Cole Porter even praised him in "You're the Top." And, of course, American Progressivism and Italian Fascism were step-sisters to Russian Communism, about whom progressive journalist Lincoln Steffens said (in defiance of what he himself had seen and knew), "I have seen the future, and it works." Finally, all three of these weird sisters are in a conspiracy to deny that they had a fourth sib; namely, German National Socialism. But they did.

Progressivism was the bane of the Twentieth Century, and it is still with us, the dragon that cannot seem to be slain. Its stain infects even those who do battle with it. People who don't normally see themselves as "progressive" find themselves grubbing for some little Power that they might grow into a bigger Power so they can DO STUFF. Other people besides Democrats and bishops are impatient with restraints upon their freedom of action. And so we all lose, because no one will restrain oneself from doing what (we all should know) should not be done.

Nobody asked me, but . . .

I've already expressed myself elsewhere on the subject of an online eucharist -- something in the same category as "electronic chocolate" -- and also on the subject of the fools and bishops (but I repeat myself) who pretend to have the authority to permit such things. We are left with the question, How could we do communion properly under the current conditions of social distancing?

Well, many of us are already doing online worship, however we can. And many of us are in fairly small congregations. The one I attend averages about 70 or so in attendance -- maybe 40 households, maybe a few more with all our widows and widowers. A manageable number.

So, let us assume that on a Sunday morning, when you tune in your local UM church's FB Live online worship service, we go rapidly from the opening proclamations to the communion service. The pastor and eight servers (plus tech person) gather round the table and consecrate the elements and share together. Then, the eight servers don masks and gloves and each take 5 or 6 readied household baskets containing a host the size of a silver dollar pancake and a sealed bottle of grape juice. These were all on the table at the time of consecration.

Then these eight "extraordinary ministers of the eucharist" as our Catholic friends call them, get in their cars and deliver the household baskets to each household that has requested communion. At each house, the driver gets out, dons a fresh pair of vinyl gloves (since driving the car may have contaminated his or her hands) and then goes up to the door. Without entering or embracing, the server hands the basket to the person who comes to the door and says, "The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for you. Take and eat and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving. Amen." And then goes on to the next stop.

In a not-too-spread out parish, everyone should be served within an hour, which hour the pastor has filled with sermon and prayer and music. At the end of the scheduled time, the pastor gives the benediction, and -- done. All the norms of celebration have been preserved. All the rules of social distancing have been preserved. The people have been fed with the body and blood of Jesus.

But, Art, it would take lots of effort to organize and do that. Yes, and worthy things are worth the effort. If you think you can do them with a lick and a promise, then you merely cheapen priceless things.

I suppose there are other ways to tackle this, given other congregational situations. Or we could just wait a few weeks until we can meet together again. Hey, when I was a kid, Methodists complained about having communion more than four times a year. Some things are worth the wait.
compass rose

Outline of a possible Scout trip to the UK

My first time taking Scouts to the UK, we did three kingdoms in sixteen days. It was a wonderful trip but about two days too long. I've been back a couple of times since, but restricted myself to nine-day tours, both times to the North country (Cumbria, Northumbria, Scotland).

Well, I've been dreaming aloud about organizing a Hoosier Trails trip overseas in 2022 -- probably to either Kandersteg or Britain. If we were to head to Britain, I'm thinking we should concentrate on doing one part of the country; and since I've been north three times, I'm wondering if a South country trip were in order, centering on London.

What might such a trip look like? Here is a brief sketch. Note: exactly what attractions on the itinerary would be up to the Scouts going. These are just the big attractions most people (or most Scouts) would be interested in. We would be cooking for ourselves, with the occasional meal out.

Day 0, typically a Friday: Overnight flight to London Heathrow

Day 1: Land at Heathrow, board light rail, proceed to South London Scout Centre at Dulwich. Indoor bunkhouse? Shop for groceries. Rest up: the first day on low sleep is a killer.

Day 2: Hop light rail to the Thames, Underground thereafter. Visit Gilwell Park, London Eye, Changing of the Guard.

Day 3: Tower of London, Southwark.

Day 4: British Museum, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's, etc.

Day 5: Leave SLCS for Heathrow; rent vehicle(s). Head for Bristol by way of Windsor, Oxford, Avebury. Buy food and camp fuel. Camp in tents at Bristol Scout Camp.

Day 6: Glastonbury, Bath Roman ruins, return to Bristol.

Day 7: Bristol to Brownsea Island by way of Cheddar Gorge. Camp on Brownsea Island.

Day 8: Brownsea Island to London Heathrow by way of Stonehenge. Crash in airport overnight.

Day 9, typically a Sunday: Early flight home across the Atlantic.

If Wales were of more importance to interested parties than, say Brownsea Island, we could include Snowdon, etc. This is all just blue sky right now. If it tickles anybody's fancy, let me know.
wayside cross

Ora et labora

I betook myself to the hills this morning, with intentions to pray and work. Along the way, I stopped at a Dollar General in one of the towns I pass through to get some wire brads. As I walked toward the back of the store to find the hardware supplies, what to my wondering eyes should appear but several shelves of toilet paper. Various brands, various size packages. I scored an eight-pack. Cool. (I'm not telling which town, because they don't need the crazy and/or desperate to invade their town on a quest for TP.)

Once on site and changed to my work clothes, I knocked together two concrete forms for the last two emplacements I've been installing. To explain, I had a site plan and building design approved long ago by the County Building Inspector. It called for 16' spans between the pillars supporting the beams. Ah, but after seeing them in situ, with beams beginning to be strung between them, he said I needed to support those spans: no more than 8' between supports. Ack. And not just any old support: each missing support needed to be a 6"x6" post resting on a concrete pad 2'x2' and 1' thick.

So, today, I did the last two concrete pads to support these fershlugginer 6x6s (they're next on the to-do list). It takes about two hours to dig, mix, and fill each one, and after you've done two, you're too bushed to do anything else. Plus, I don't want to overload my truck. Each emplacement takes about nine 60 lb. bags of concrete mix (all in all, I've got over 6,000 lb. of concrete mix in this project), and I don't want to put more than 20 bags (tops) in the back of my truck; all that limits the amount of work you can get done in a day. I prefer Menard's mix to Lowe's, because Menard's in Bloomington has their high stress concrete mix in 60 lb. bags, while Lowe's in Lawrenceburg has theirs in 80 lb. bags. (It gets harder and harder to handle these things in my advancing decrepitude.)

I was just about ready to level up the form in the second hole when it started sprinkling. I covered the bags of concrete mix that were left in the truck and continued on apace. Finally got 'er done. I slipped out of the holler about 4:00 and was home by 6:18. But, the pics! It's been so long since I've shared any pics from Wilderstead. I'm afraid that concrete work isn't very photogenic. But I finally got a few to share.


Yessir, yessir, many bags full
Mixing concrete by hand is easier than mixing mortar, but it still beats you up


The hole thing
Yep, that's a hole in the ground, and I'm going to pour more concrete into it


Beauty shot
This is one I did last time