I'm just here for the food

For those who like to look at pix of people making delicious food ("Food Porn," as we call it), I have uploaded some of Anna's pix of last weekend's Wapehani District Winter Rendezvous. We start cooking for Saturday evening's Feast the day before:


Batter up!
Kara makes brownies by the yardCollapse )

A bit tuckered

My 10th Winter Rendezvous as head chef began with an attack of Bell’s palsy in mid-week. Then I discovered on my way to camp Friday that the heater in my truck isn’t working. And when I tried to take my first pic of the weekend, I discovered that I had left my SD card in my computer. I wasn’t the only one facing challenges. Anna and Brian were late getting to camp, and when they arrived I learned that the reason why was that James was sick. They messaged Deanne from the road, who came to camp after work to take him to our house, where he has spent the last two days watching videos and talking non-stop. He’s much better now. I am some (minimally) better; Bell’s palsy takes a while to get over. The nap I took with Hera on my lap and the shower I just finished make me feel even better.

So, I have no pics of my own to share. When Anna sends me some of hers, maybe I can post some. In the meantime, this one by Bob Kessler will have to do. It’s a closeup of one of the three boar’s heads I cooked on Friday. The cracker barrel (evening snack) on Friday had a Roman theme. We had libum, an ancient Roman holiday bread, a relish tray of “Mediterranean munchables” (various sorts of olives, pickled veg, green onions, sardines), and Vindicta Lupimagnimali, which is Latin for “The Big Bad Wolf’s Revenge.”


Caput apri defero
Photo courtesy Bob Kessler

The Scouts really got into hacking the flesh off those boar’s heads! Even our new female Scouts were intrigued. Maia from Troop 119 wanted an ear to gnaw; her friend said she also wanted an ear. Most got cheek meat, but we had boys and men who sampled tongue, brains, and even an eyeball. The cracker barrel got everybody launched on a fun weekend.

We had a full crew of helpers for a rare wonder, and they all worked steadily throughout Friday evening and Saturday. I was pretty frantic for a while on Friday; I was there before 10:00 and all alone until Kara arrived about 1:00. By that time, I’d already put the boar’s heads down and made the filling for ten venison-bacon pies. She and I blazed away until Anna & Brian arrived about 5:00. The rest of our help started streaming in with their troops about 6 or 7 p.m. Once they were on duty, our prep pace really picked up. We had an hour and a half between end of prep and cracker barrel, and were consistently an hour or more ahead all day Saturday, except for the kebabs: we had guys finishing up the kebabs for the second seating while the first seating was chowing down.

The Feast this year featured:
Bill Grogan’s Goat (and Chicken) Kebabs;
Pinto Beans and Rice (served separately);
Mama Dee’s Church Dinner Lasagne;
The Buck Stops Here (Scottish venison-bacon pie)
Oma’s Meatballs und Spätzle;
Green Beans;
Guckensalat (German cucumber salad);
Green Salad;
Nanner Puddin’;
Dark Chocolate Brownies.
Massive quantities were on hand, of course, and I encouraged everyone to eat up. Then we fed them the leftovers at Saturday night cracker barrel. “Food is love,” they say, and they’re right. One of the prime ways I show love to people is to feed them. I’m happy to say that the feeling is reciprocated. I have never had so many people thank me (us). Even the appreciation often shown to me as a pastor (and it was not a stingy amount) pales beside the outpouring of affection I experience when I lead the kitchen team on this deal. Middle School boys go out of their way to thank me and shake my hand. Lots of grownups also thank me, even hug me occasionally. Old friends and Scout-acquaintenances express their delight in food and fellowship. Our team is made up of a tight-knit group of old hands and helpful newbies, and we all enjoy what we’re doing; to work on such a team is like playing a sport at a high level of competition with a really good team.

It’s certainly as tiring as playing a sport. I was up astonishingly early three days straight. I stood on concrete and cooked for two days (with occasional breaks in a camp chair). As the head ding, I found myself schlepping large, heavy amounts of meat, veg, and whole cases of this and that out to the prep areas in order to fill empty hands with something to do. The pace was brisk. And then this morning, we had to clean everything up, sort the leftovers, and get out of Dodge. I left about 10:00 a.m.

It’s good to be home.

N.B. The title of this post is a pun. "Tuckered" is American slang for "tired," but "tucker" is also Australian slang for food. I'm tuckered out in both senses.
dangerous job

So much for "the gracious compensations of age"

So, yesterday morning as I was shaving, I thrust out my jaw to shave under my chin, as one does, and promptly popped a cramp in the muscles under my jaw. At my age, such things have become routine. I can get a cramp in little tiny muscles I didn't even know I had. Well, I was rubbing my jaw to massage the cramp out when my face went all freaky. (That happened a long time ago, Art! Pipe down, or ye'll get no gruel for supper, ye lubbers!)

Anyway, the trigeminal nerve running from my lip to the corner of my eye on the right side of my face -- the same one that got all messed up from my sinus surgery ten years ago, and gave me fits for so long, and has never completely gone back to normal -- suddenly went numb. Very odd. I wondered if I could have had a stroke or mini-stroke. So I did what you do: I raised my eyebrows, I smiled, I moved the various muscles in my face, I looked at the size of my pupils. Everything was okay, just weird on the right side. I wasn't stumbling or dizzy, no weakness anywhere else. So I went ahead and moved the big vendor's order out to camp. Other than feeling tired and washed-out, it went okay. I came home and decided to get some good rest and an early bedtime.

Well, I got up this morning, and things that seemed to be getting better were now worse. The numbness affected my ability to move my cheeks and tongue. My smile was crooked. Uh-oh. I finished getting cleaned up and told Deanne I was heading for the ER to get checked out. The long and short of that six-hour experience (including an MRI) is that I have NOT had a stroke or mini-stroke. The probable diagnosis is Bell's Palsy, an inflammation disorder associated with a virus. So I'm on a course of steroids and anti-virals, and I have to use eye drops and sleep with an eyepatch for the next week. (Avast there, yez can get yer own hammock, Matey!) I will have to secure a follow-up appointment with the neurologist I saw ten years ago for the trigeminal neuralgia. Some or all function may well return.

They cut me loose just before 2:00 p.m., so I hustled over to Spencer to pick up the main meat order, then back to Bloomington to pick up the secondary meat order, then out to camp to stow it all in the walk-in cooler. After that, I'm knackered. I think I'll bring a barstool to camp for the Saturday marathon, so I can direct the orchestra from a chair part of the time. And I don't think I'll be heaving and shoving the chow like I usually do. But I've got good help, and we'll get 'er done.

If you've got a prayer to spare, I'd appreciate it. Thank 'ee, Squire.
saxon cross

Old wine in old wineskins

Encomia are pouring forth upon the passing of retired Bishop Michael Coyner. He is being called "a uniter," "a visionary," and so on. He is also praised for being fair to everybody from his position of power. I'll go along with that last one. I'll even add to the pile with a tribute to his political sense; he was as shrewd a vote-counter and handler of factions as I've seen. But, de mortuis and all that notwithstanding, I was not impressed with the unity or vision that Bishop Coyner supposedly blessed us with.

For the great achievement of Bishop Coyner's episcopacy -- the vision he cast -- was an attempt to answer the challenge posed by our institutional decline through the merger of Annual Conferences. He managed to pull this off twice, first in the Dakotas and then in Indiana. This was no mean feat. I bow to his managerial and political skill to pull it off, both times. And I should point out that I was not and am not opposed to North and South Indiana being one conference; indeed, I have been greatly enriched by new relationships with people from "the other conference." Not only that, but both former conferences had very strong traditionalist cadres, and joining together their reach has been greatly extended, I think -- an unintended consequence of the merger, perhaps.

Nevertheless, Bishop Coyner's vision was the answer to the wrong question. You can't consolidate your way out of decline. Healthy orgs multiply outlets and subdivide to extend their reach. Dying orgs try to consolidate outlets in order to preserve jobs for senior managers and extend the life of the org without changing organizational behavior. They call this "efficiency" and "elimination of duplicate services." Another word for it is "morbidity."

Are mergers always destined to be like this? No. It depends upon what kind of org you make coming out of the merger. As one friend remarked in the consultation phase leading up to the votes, "I can only see two possible reasons for this merger: either we're going to save a boatload of money; or we're going to grow." We have done neither. Neither was in the design. Instead, we have hastened the decline by doing all the wrong things.

First, we eliminated the huge committee structures of both Annual Conferences and replaced them with a streamlined, centralized structure. This means fewer people (and their talents) are needed to run the org. It also means it's easier to get the structure to do what HQ wants. All funding for programs now goes through this bottleneck, which means only trendy things that central leaders are enamored of gets supported -- and they only can support now this, now that. There is no sustained effort at anything.

Second, we bought into a horrendously expensive and inconvenient HQ and filled it with staff. Only one staff member of the former conferences didn't have a place to land in the new org chart. And since then, we keep hiring Associate Council Directors of all kinds of things. In effect, we've replaced strong conference committees and task forces with paid staff. This means that while our budget has arguably shrunk, we're still spending far too much on HQ expenses.

Third, the model foisted upon us assumes that clergy and lay Members of Annual Conference don't want to be burdened with voting on a lot of things. So everything is pre-chewed in the centralized structure, and the actual business of the Annual Conference has been reduced to rallies, seminars, speaking gigs for the same ol' same ol' from around the connection, and ginned-up missions projects (as if nobody does any of these in their home churches). Annual Conference has become a trade show, not a business meeting. The Members have become employees (clergy) and customers (laity). The result has been not only a badly managed conference, but one which most people can't summon the energy to care about. My daughter attended as a District Equalizing Member this last year and said that everything was tattered and shabby. The vibrant life of the Annual Conference she remembered as a child and youth from the parsonage was gone beyond recall.

Fourth, the Districts were vastly reduced in number (which I support), but then the Superintendents have been reduced to being an entourage for the current bishop, who has saddled them with the grandiose and un-Disciplinary title of Conference Superintendents. There is little happening out in the Districts, and certainly little feeling among the congregations of belonging to anything to care about. "Efficiency" has also led to the spectacle of mass Charge Conferences where Supers glory in not having to do regular business. So, the whole face-to-face accountability, Annual Business Meeting of the congregation has become a thankless chore of submitting reports. If I hadn't been required to attend as a pastor, there were times when no one from our congregation would have attended their own Charge Conference.

In all these ways, the model proposed and enacted under Bishop Coyner's leadership has followed in the wake of other behaviors in the general church. We are busy disinventing Methodism. We no longer believe in our own core processes. The snappy slogan a few years ago was "Rethink Church." Except we never did. Perhaps "Unthink Church" would have been a more appropriate slogan.

Mike was a good man who loved the church. By all accounts, he was a good pastor. I grieve his loss. But his vision was miscast, and the ultimate outcome of his achievements as bishop is the hollowed-out shell we have become. Maybe we'd be as bad off without his efforts as we are now, maybe not. But we are certainly where we are due in large part to his work.

Teaching doctrine

A couple of years ago, I was listening to a friend preach and I heard him utter an astounding bit of Arianism. If I had accused him of teaching Arianism, he would have been offended. He is an orthodox/evangelical pastor and an excellent teacher of the Bible. Nevertheless, he had stumbled into a declaration of the Son of God as a created being.Collapse )
how long

Where our division comes from

I was reading an article that said that the essential problem with our denomination's disunity came from the attempt to merge the Methodist Church with the EUB Church in 1968. I think that is too simplistic. Our disunity was already manifested in both denominations before the merger.

Chuck Keysor's seminal article on Methodism's Silent Majority -- the piece that eventually spawned Good News -- predates the merger. Already within the Methodist Church, you had a situation where progressive elites (we called them liberals back then) were mostly in charge while the traditionalists (we mostly called them evangelicals) were treated as backwards pew perchers. Modernism had long taken over most clergy education.

Meanwhile, in the EUB Church, there was probably even a greater proportion of evangelicals, but the top leadership was committed to being a mainline church. And it was caught up in the ecumenical fervor of the day, exemplified by the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), a ten-denomination consortium trying to figure out how to finesse their differences and become one big org to better witness to unity in Christ. After the merger that created The UMC, there were only nine denominations in COCU. And that was as far as it ever got. It fretted and wrassled for another twenty years before finally expiring in frustration.

Merging our two churches ran up against our Restrictive Rules, however. We couldn't write a new statement of faith without seeking 75% approval from ALL the clergy and lay members of Annual Conferences worldwide. The solution was to declare that the Methodist Articles of Religion and the EUB Confession of Faith were basically equivalent, and therefore equally valid and accepted as doctrinal standards. The obvious tensions between the two brought up other tensions which eventually led to the notorious 1972 official endorsement of pluralism. And with that, our essential problem of different theological commitments could only grow. It picked up the sexuality issue as it rolled along, and here we are.

The answer to this is that we who are responsible for guarding and teaching the faith need to be unified in our commitments and understanding. There is room for personal emphasis, even for private misgivings on certain things. But the central tradition must be affirmed. And that central tradition cannot be reduced to a checklist of shibboleths. Mere correct formulation (i.e., repeating the right slogans) is not "the faith once delivered to the saints." What is required is a community of faith that is in constant communication on the essentials of the faith, where all of us are constantly discovering and re-affirming those essentials. It takes solid clergy education, and it takes solid peer review in the credentialing process. We have to reach a point where we are willing to say, "We love you, but we won't ordain you (at least, not yet)."

Charles Williams said that the problem with evangelizing the world is that you have to start over every thirty years or so. Teaching the faith is a constant process, and not just to the laity.

First Conditioner Hike

I haven't done any serious hiking for 9 months. I do a 1-mile perambulation of my neighborhood a couple times a week, but that's not hiking. Being bound for Philmont in six months, I've got to recover my strength and stamina, as well as lose some pounds. So I took advantage of a bright winter day to do a 5-mile hike today.

I walked from my home to Leonard Springs Nature Preserve, down to the wetlands and back up to the road, and then home. My time for those 5 miles was 1 hour 52 minutes, or just a sneeze better than 2.5 mph over the course. My left knee started to twinge as I started the last mile; probably should have worn my knee braces.

I need to hike regularly until I can knock out ten-milers without wearing myself out. Then, I'll need to strap the backpack on and start carrying some weight. The upshot is, I really need to do some significant walking every week. I could use a hiking buddy.

Variations on a theme

Language is not only metaphorical, it's historical. Our talk is full of common expressions divorced from their original context. We all sort of know what they mean, but we no longer know where they come from. For us word geeks, knowing the history increases our pleasure and facility in using these expressions.

A friend used the expression "mixed bag" in a social media post this morning. I was just explaining to Deanne the other day the origin of that term. "Bag" is a hunting term. It comes from the bag slung under the bird hunter's arm, where the birds shot that day are kept until the hunter gets home. This is why "bag" is also a verb for a successful hunt ("we bagged six pheasants this morning, Cedric").

Lord Dunsany, the Irish peer and writer of fantasy stories and plays, wrote a book called My Ireland. It was written just after independence from Britain was achieved, and he was trying to get a sense of what it meant to be Irish. That said, it's mostly a book about bird hunting, which was his preoccupation. Dunsany uses the term "mixed bag" in a way that finally lit up my understanding.

A bird hunter usually goes out hunting one particular kind of bird. You take the appropriate gun and shells for that bird, you go to its habitat. You want to "bag" enough of that bird to serve everybody back at the castle or manor at dinner. But sometimes, you don't get much. At the end of the day, there are (let's say) two snipe, a woodcock, and a duck in your bag. That's a mixed bag. It's a miscellany.

A similar term is "mine run." The editor of the Linton Daily Citizen (known locally as the Linton Daily Blowgut) used to write a column called "Mine Run." In a coal mining community, where even the local high school sports teams are the Miners, it was very apropos. A mine run is the totality of what a mine produces in a day.

Imagine the miners underground blasting and digging, and filling ore carts with all they have managed to work loose. They don't sort it down there; if they don't get it out of the way, they can't keep digging. So everything is brought up and out and dumped on a conveyor or something where it can be sorted. There is valuable ore and worthless ore, all mixed together. Some of the good stuff might not be what you were mining for, but is nevertheless a profitable by-product. Finally, the tailings (useless rock) are dumped somewhere. The mine's run for the day is all that stuff passing along under your review. So a "mine run" is an unorganized, off-the-top take on everything going on. It's a miscellany that doesn't pretend that the various pieces are of equal value. Jeff Nordlinger's column, Impromptus is a mine run.

Sometimes we refer to a group of people as an odd lot. We usually take "odd" here in the meaning of peculiar, but the term actually refers to quantity. An odd lot is a quantity of something less than the amount that that commodity usually comes in. It especially refers to sales of securities, which are typically sold in 100-share blocks. To buy a particular number of shares (say, 67), is to ask for an "odd lot." If you wanted to buy eggs by the unit rather than the dozen, you would be buying an odd lot of eggs, I suppose. However, when someone says, "we're kind of an odd lot," the speaker isn't implying that there are fewer of us than usually show up; the implication is that we are different in some way -- either from other people, or from each other.

My peace I give you

The internet is a raucous place. Normally restrained people sometimes lose their inhibitions when commenting on social media. And then, there are the unrestrained people who haunt the internet: the people with no filters, the cranks and conspiracy mongers, the perpetually angry and the deeply hurt. To read any blog or news post's combox is to see some things you wish later you could unsee. And when it's your blog or post that people choose to bay at, that can hurt.

Or not.

Sometimes, the angry rejoinder falls flat. When it's obvious that they have read a different article from the one you actually wrote. When they don't bother with engaging your argument at all, just take the opportunity to stomp with their hobnails. When they think they're being clever and all they're doing is showing how clueless they are. When they think they're being devastating when you really don't give a rip what they say. Sometimes the angry post is so over the top, you just have to laugh at it.

Now, sometimes, the angry rejoinder would have stung if it had been made a while ago, but by this point you're just over it. You've moved on. So you feel no need to respond. And then there are the times when you'd like to respond, but you realize it would just feed the other guy's response. So, though something in you hates to give an obnoxious someone else the last word, you realize that there is no upside to feeding the trolls. Just move on.

The peace of God is more than just moving on in the midst of internet flame wars, but it is at least that.
how long

Please don't talk about me when I'm gone

Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes provided the soundtrack of my childhood. In the classic cartoon, "One Froggy Night," a singing frog (later named Michigan J. Frog) provides the only dialogue, consisting entirely of old Tin Pan Alley hits. One of these is a breakup song. The two lines quoted are,
Please don't talk about me when I'm gone,
Oh Honey, though our friendship ceases from now on.
I thought of these lines after reading several United Methodists fretting over how progressives and centrists are describing the proposed denominational separation. Traditionalists are viewed as a troublesome minority by these people, who will finally leave so that the church can proceed on its destined course. Traditionalists want it clearly understood that they have won the argument in 13 straight General Conferences, and they constitute a global majority of The UMC. Which is all true. But once the separation is accomplished, the Rump UMC will always represent the trads as a backward minority. That's how they talk about us now (even though it's not true), and it's how they will always talk about us. Adam Hamilton will never have anything but disdain for us in any of his books.

Yeah, but then if we're the majority, why are we leaving? Why should we start over and give the keys to the family home to those guys?

I feel the weight of that argument. I was always for staying. The UMC is my home, the only church I ever wanted to belong to. I had assumed after GC19, we -- the global majority of traditionalists -- would take over the denomination legislatively, and the progressives (or at least, the most radical of them) would leave. And the progs started planning to leave, but then the centrists blew up. The institutionalists, the bishops, the moderately liberal clergy decided to join the mutiny. Now, it's a civil war. The global majority -- locked in for generations due to growth in Africa and decline in America -- can pass all the plans they want, but they can't enforce them, at least in America. The Judicial Council can say that Karen Oliveto's consecration was unlawful (and they have) until they're blue in the face, but they can't remove her from the episcopacy. Enforcement of General Conference decisions depends upon bishops, Boards of Ordained Ministry, and Conferences executing the provisions of the Discipline. The centrists are willing to tear the church apart in order to keep control of the apparatus.

No doubt they would say they were acting out of sincere theological conviction. That's not the way I see it, but they are free to tell that story about themselves, to themselves. They are also free to tell any story they like about the motives of the traditionalists -- and will. It will be for the historians to sort it all out.

I find myself in the position of wanting to stay and fight for the right -- to turn back at the door and say, "And another thing!" But my friends are pulling at my coat saying, "Come ON, Arthur, you've had quite enough for one night." And I think they are correct. The United Methodist Church is currently ungovernable. Somebody has to leave. And somebody has to make the sacrifices to resolve the impasse, even if their motives are misunderstood. Not only that, but somebody has to be willing to compromise and take less than they are due, if anybody is to get out of this with anything worth having.

It is also the case that once any significant portion of the trads leaves, the balance of power will switch, and the UMC will become (even against its will) a denomination of, by, and for the progressives. And people are already heading for the doors. If we want to keep together the maximum number of traditionalists (here and abroad) that we can, we need to go together, and we need to go soon. It's not what I wanted, but it's probably what has to be. And if it has to be, then it needs all of us, clergy and lay, to care for those caught up in it. We need to make the new denom a success.

There are days when I am excited about the possibilities ahead. There are other days when I hanker after the fleshpots of Egypt (to borrow a Biblical phrase). But I'll be hanged if I'm going to care what the likes of Adam Hamilton or anyone else says about me.