My 2p worth

I realize that I don't have a dog in this fight, but allow me to express my bewilderment at the Scottish independence movement.

The SNP likes to paint a rosy picture of an independent Scotland. They assume that with all that North Sea oil revenue, they could do just fine on their own. But the financial situation of an independent Scotland is not as they describe it.

For one thing, Scotland's main source of employment is government jobs. They don't produce much there, anymore. Even the Glasgow shipyards don't build ships like they used to. Way too many Scots are on the dole, too. As a constituent part of the UK, Scotland receives more in government expenditures than it provides in taxes. Even the lion's share in North Sea oil can't balance Scotland's books. An independent Scotland would be a poorer Scotland.

The SNP has also floated a plan that envisioned them using the British pound as their currency for a period after independence. This was immediately nixed by the UK government. Scotland could, of course, use the euro if they got back into the EU; however, there are problems with this, too. While the EU would be glad to spite the UK, it really doesn't want to encourage independence movements in its member states. There are too many smoldering regions like Catalonia who would love to follow the example of an independent Scotland. Countries like Spain are therefore not likely to want Scotland back.

Now, patriotism doesn't have to be rational. You can cry "Freedom!" Braveheart style and face all the difficulties ahead. But if your great desire is to be independent, why in the world would you want to leave the UK only to subsume yourself into the undemocratic quagmire which is the EU? This part of the SNP program, I think, gives you the key to understanding the current independence movement: it's a political pipe dream of bureaucrats whose greatest desire is to submit to other bureaucrats.

Scotland's a beautiful place with a kaleidoscope of unique cultures, but it only advanced out of terrible poverty and backwardness when it joined with England and got the run of the empire. In every imaginable way, Scotland has gained more from the Union than it gave up. And with the devolution of powers currently in play, it could revel in as much Scottishness as it could desire from within the UK. Leaving the UK is a romantic notion, but becoming a concubine in the EU harem is stupid.

In memoriam Margaret Shirley Collins

Today would be my mother's 100th birthday. Born Margaret Shirley in Smithville, Indiana, she went on to serve in the WACs in New Guinea during WWII. After the war, she attended IU, where she met and married Ward Collins.

She was the mother of three children. She was also a patriot, an organizer of good works, and one of the sharpest minds I have ever known. She and I were much alike in personality, which explains why we argued so much.

She died at age 66 of a stroke following arterial surgery.

The picture, below, is of Your Humble Correspondent (age around 14) with Mother. When I showed this pic to my son Zachary a few years ago, he said in a worried tone, "I can't remember when this picture of me and Nana was taken. And I don't remember that house." To which I replied, "That's not you." (Our remarkable likeness at comparable ages is family legend.)

Arthur & Mother

Arthur and Margaret Collins c. 1968
Ubi sunt

If you're going to pillage, at least pronounce it properly

What we call Old Norse is the written language of the Eddas, which were copied or composed in the 1100s-1200s. Modern Icelandic is descended from this language, and looks very similar; indeed, Icelanders can read the Eddas with about the same facility as we would read Shakespeare or Chaucer. That said, the pronunciation has shifted significantly in the intervening centuries, and if you pronounce Old Norse the way modern Icelandic is, you won't be faithfully reproducing Old Norse.

Now, what the Vikings spoke was Proto-Norse. Several significant changes took place around AD 900, after which we start talking about Old Norse. Written scraps of Proto-Norse are extremely rare, so most of the grammatical forms and pronunciation have to be recreated using the tools of historical linguistics.

The writing system for pre-conversion Old Norse is what we call the Younger Futhark. This was a simplified system of runes that emerged about the time Proto-Norse was turning into Old Norse. Before that, there was a fuller set of runes we call the Elder Futhark, which were developed to write Proto-Germanic, the language that preceded Proto-Norse. The Elder Futhark was probably developed from a variant of the Greek Alphabet that was in use before Greek was standardized during the Athenian ascendancy. It was probably taken north and adapted by some other trading partner, before being adopted and adapted by the Germanic people yet further on. So, the runes probably entered Germanic society some time in the last half millennium BC, before Germanic began to break up into separate Eastern (Gothic), Western (Ingvaeonic [that's us], Istvaeonic, Irminonic), and Northern (Proto-Norse) languages. (There was an Old English adaptation of the runic alphabet, too, called the futhorc.) After the introduction of Latin literacy by way of Christian monks, the Latin alphabet was used to write the Germanic languages, though several special characters remained (like þ) to express sounds that didn't appear in Latin.

Hat tip to Jackson Crawford, Old Norse specialist, whose YouTube videos filled in some of the details I was hazy about.
old whig

On Racism

We’re hearing a lot about racism these days. It would behoove us to think about what racism is. Like other ‘isms,’ racism implies systematized thought, rather than simply negative feelings about other people.

Racism is not xenophobia – fear, distrust, or disdain of people from other groups. Xenophobia is too common and too inchoate. Even people who share a background with other people may be seen as outside the social group within which trust is exchanged. The development of community, and the extension of community to larger and larger social structures (as in a whole country) makes xenophobia recede, but it never quite goes away. Probably Stone Age people, when they saw a person they didn’t know, first worried about possible stranger danger rather than seeing a potential friend.Collapse )
how long

The Lord bless your going out and your coming in

The picture below is of our little cabin in the woods, as seen from the platform of the loft of the retirement home I'm building next to it.


Little cabin in the woods

We built our cabin in 2004. Up until last year, it had no electricity in it. It still has no running water. Heat is by wood stove and propane space heater. But it's fairly snug. We've used it as recreational property. Nowadays, it also acts as a tool locker for building the new house. But that little cabin has played a special role in our lives that most people don't understand. When we built it, we immediately labeled it "bishop insurance."

Now, to understand that phrase I have to explain to you what life is like for United Methodist clergy. We do not arrange our own employment; we go where we are sent. And there are untrustworthy bosses out there (bishops and superintendents) -- and foolish ones. There are also clergy-killer churches and various individual buttheads to butt heads with. There's a lot of stress in the ministry, and when you get beaten down enough, you begin to doubt your own worth. You begin to feel that you could never make it without this job, so you put up with stuff no one should ever have to put up with. You become motivated by fear. And your life gets distorted in all kinds of ways.

I was lucky to know a wise man who used to say to me, "If you want to be happy in the United Methodist ministry, you have to be able to leave it." Not that one wants to leave it, you understand. But if push comes to shove, you have to be ready -- and emotionally healthy enough -- to tell various people to go to hell and shake the dust off your feet. That way, every year you stay in the professional clergy is another year you have chosen to bear the burdens of it. No one is holding you down; no one is forcing you to do anything. For Jesus' sake, I will do what I must do. For conscience' sake, I will keep the faith -- and keep the rules. But. I know where the Erschleudersitz* release is.

After serving our second clergy-killer church under yet another incompetent DS, I decided I was through putting up with stuff. I told people, "Henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." (Those marks were sciatica in my case, but you get the point.) Once our little cabin was built, we knew we would never feel trapped again. I could always take a leave of absence -- in a few years, I could retire -- and in a pinch (though it would have been like cutting off my right hand) I could simply hand in my orders. For we had a place to go. We talked it over. If I ever had to tell a bishop to go jump, we would put all our stuff in storage and live in our little cabin -- with no running water, no electricity -- for as many months as it took to get our lives re-oriented and find a more permanent situation. Not many people -- particularly at our age then -- could have lived that way. But we knew we had the skills to do so. It was not an idle fantasy for us.

It is wonderfully freeing to know you can make it, to know your own value in what you are doing. Luckily, I never had to take that step, but I walked lighter and with more joy because I knew I could take it.

All this is to say, by way of prelude, that I understand what Mt. Bethel UMC and Dr. Jody Ray down in Georgia have done, and what it has cost them, to tell their rotten bishop to go jump and strike off on their own. I understand that they never wanted to do that. But I'm proud of them for being ready to face what has to be faced, for the sake of the gospel in their circumstances. It's not about ego, it's not about getting your own way, it's not about power. For both clergy and laity, if you want to be happy -- and effective -- in ministry, you have to be able to leave it. God bless those who haven't had to, and continue to stay where they are, even in unpromising circumstances -- joyfully, freely. Their obedience makes a bright contrast to the dingy disobedience of so many. But I will not judge those who have had enough, who have been backed into a corner, who have decided, however reluctantly, that it's time to hit the silk.

*German for "ejection seat"
old whig

Comments on the Derek Chauvin trial

So, Officer Chauvin has been convicted on all three counts (manslaughter, 3rd degree murder, 2nd degree murder) in the death of George Floyd. Some of my acquaintances are cackling like so many Mesdames Defarges, which I think is kind of creepy. So many people see a larger narrative in this, but they can't agree on what the narrative is.

For many, the killing of George Floyd was about more than George Floyd. It was an example of systemic racism, which they believe infests the United States. This causes them to overlook Floyd's behavior in the drama -- his violent resistance to a lawful arrest, his ingesting a powerful load of drugs which made him even harder to restrain, his previous experience at faking an emergency when detained. This is not to excuse the police behavior in response, mind you, but making of Floyd just "another Black victim" overlooks the fact that he was an individual with his own agency. He didn't deserve to die in that altercation, but neither is he an empty symbol to be made into a poster child for anybody's cause. At the same time, trying to assign to Derek Chauvin and the other cops racist motives is something put on them, not apparently something they themselves exhibited at the time (no attempt was made to prove racial animus at the trial).

Others carp that the way to avoid dying in police custody is to do what the police say and not make things difficult. This is generally true, but not particularly helpful. Making all cops heroes (until proven to be one of the few supposed bad apples) commits the same error as making all Black persons who die in confrontations with the police innocent victims (without even investigating the facts).

Meanwhile, David French -- who served with the JAG corps in Iraq -- pointed out some time ago that armed military policing dangerous neighborhoods in Iraq had to make split-second decisions with deadly consequences on a regular basis. There were very few cases in which their judgment proved catastrophic, either for themselves or the civilians, and even fewer cases in which their judgment could be said to have been affected by any sort of prejudice toward Arabs, Muslims, or whatever. And they didn't even know the local language. French says we have a problem with police training in this country. They should -- and could -- be trained and held to the standard of our military, but for some reason, we don't do that.

Finally, Kevin D. Williamson points out every now and then that the vast majority of these confrontations, police problems, and riots take place in cities which have been under Democratic Party rule for decades. Maybe what we have is not just a race problem or a social problem or a training problem, but a political problem which could be improved by a change in governance.

Beyond the larger narrative -- whatever it is -- the actual trial is only the opening phase of this particular drama. There is at least some possibility that the result may be overturned on appeal. That wouldn't clear Chauvin, but it would give him a new trial. Some of the grounds for saying that the trial was unfair include: the judge's refusal to grant a change of venue out of Hennepin County, where feelings were so high; the City of Minneapolis announcing a massive wrongful death settlement in the middle of jury selection; the judge refusing to sequester the jury when another police shooting occurred in a nearby community just as the trial was wrapping up; and the inflammatory comments of the execrable U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters at the same time. All this, combined with the rapidity with which guilty verdicts were returned on all charges, without the jury asking so much as a single question of the court or seeking to review any of the evidence in a long, complicated trial, certainly gives the impression of pressure on the jury. At the same time, one of the more serious charges was allowed to proceed, even though the trial judge initially thought it inappropriate. Another case is making its way through the court of appeals, and that charge may be invalidated regardless.

In the end, I think Chauvin will be locked up for quite some time, and justifiably so, but I think we would all be better off if we let each criminal trial be about the people concerned, and not be in a hurry to use the people in the story to score larger points to advance some other narrative we care about. The time for that is for when the case is in the rear-view mirror and passions have cooled a bit.

What does the sign signify?

I read an interesting investigative blogpost on the Eagle Rank recently which confirmed my impressions of what is going on with Scouting’s highest award. Even as membership in BSA continues to decline, the number of Scouts achieving the Eagle Rank Is rising. And the rate of achievement is rising, too. More Eagles are awarded each decade than in the previous decade.

Well, my congratulations to Eagles one and all. I do not mean to throw any shade on their accomplishments. But I have to ask, is this altogether a good thing? In a similar way, we see more and more advanced degrees awarded in higher education. But what do those degrees mean in a world flooded with degrees? Achieving a credential like Eagle or Ph.D. still says a lot about the person who can claim it. But more and more, it seems to be about the drive to acquire the credential, not about the breadth or depth of experiences or knowledge or skills that one has acquired along the way toward that credential.

Thirty years ago, I was putting up a canopy over the place where we parked the camp tractor during Staff Week with the help of a 14-year-old Eagle Scout. I asked him to tie a tautline hitch around a post with one of the guy lines. He didn’t know how to do it. I was flabbergasted. “Whaddya mean, you don’t know how to tie a tautline hitch? You’re an Eagle Scout.” He replied that he learned how to tie the knot at the time he was passing those particular tests, but he didn’t bother to retain the knowledge. Since that time, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of required skills that aren’t retained by advancing Scouts. But more than that, there seems to be a difference in what kids are in Scouting for.

Scouting for me was about camping. It was about adventure. It was about discovery. Along the way, I forged certain important relationships with friends, with adult mentors. It formed me as a person in many ways. The Eagle for me stood for all that Scouting had shown me and made of me, not some massive personal achievement. I hadn’t conquered the mountain, but rather become native to it.

In the years since I have sat on many Boards of Review and done many personal growth conferences. I like to ask about the important experiences the Scouts are having. I am less interested in how many merit badges they’ve earned. A badge should stand for some experience; the experience is not just earning a badge. Piling up credentials when you haven’t been anywhere or done anything (comparatively speaking) seems to me a vain pursuit. In my time, I have been both a Scoutmaster and a Venturing Advisor. The youth in my units advanced at a goodly rate, but advancement in rank was a side effect of the adventures we were having, not the reason we were having the adventures.

My goodness, has it been that long?

This spring is the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation. (It’s also the 30th anniversary of my Ph.D. commencement.)

The three most useful courses I took in high school (other than Driver’s Ed) were Typing, Journalism, and Latin.

The three most enjoyable courses I took in high school were Latin, World History, and Chemistry.

Three courses I always wanted to take, but never did (at any level): Old English, Geography, Economics. I am self-taught in all these subjects. (Actually, I avoided taking a course in Economics like the plague; all the Economics I knew until I started reading Thomas Sowell a few years ago I learned from Scrooge McDuck.)

Best education advice I ever received: my mother told me, “Never let college interfere with your education.”

My opinion of public school when I was a high school senior was that it suffered from a serious lack of competition; nobody had any incentive to do it any better than it was being done. I have not changed this opinion; if anything, I have become more emphatic about it.

What I wanted to be when I was in Sixth Grade: a cartoonist. What I started out in college to be: a lawyer. What I wound up being: an ordained minister.

Three things I always wanted to do, but nobody ever asked me to: to sing the National Anthem at a sporting event, to give a commencement address, and to teach a course in Bible as Literature.
hound of heaven

On preaching

My first appointment as a student pastor was in 1976. With only a year of seminary under my belt, I was made the pastor of three churches. Every Sunday, I drove a 23-mile circuit to preach in all three of them. Services were at 9:00, 10:15, and 11:00. With a schedule like that, I had to keep things moving. Without consciously intending to do so, I became a master of the 45-minute worship service. I could do a service with three hymns, a choir special, a full-dress sermon, holy communion, and still make it to the next church on time.

The result of that training was that over the next forty years, I was never rushed. I almost never had to cut down anything to include it in the service. Got a baptism? Someone wants to do a solo? Annual Conference report? No problem. One Easter, I was receiving a confirmation class and we were to have communion. One parent said, “Oh, no, we’ll be here forever!” I said, “Watch me.” We did the whole service, skimping on nothing. It was glorious. As the liturgist and I recessed down the aisle at the end, I asked him what time it was. Without looking at a clock or feeling in any way pressured, we had got it all done in 58 minutes.

Along the way, I discovered a couple of things about preaching. Anybody can talk for 35-40 minutes. But to explain something really complicated, whether a doctrine or a Biblical crux or a deep psychological state, you have to FOCUS. Talking all around the subject, adding more stuff, doesn’t actually get to the heart of things. It also means people lose their way among the glittering pebbles you are heaping up, and lose the shape of the message. I wanted to take my listeners deeper; to do that, I had to sharpen my pencil and say it better, not just say it longer.

Nor do I have much sympathy for those who bleat that we have to let the Spirit be in charge. I’ve always wondered why the Spirit always tells them to keep going, never that they’ve done enough. You’d think sometimes it would go the other way, you know? And I remember Paul telling the Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:32), “the spirits of prophets are under the control of the prophets.” Even gripped in the Spirit’s ecstasy, he expected people to take turns and do things in an orderly fashion. In the more routine sort of Spirit-led activity – the writing and delivery of sermons – this is even more important. If you can’t get it said in the time allowed, and you want to beat it to death one more time, then you are Out. Of. Control. Besides not actually doing a better job, you are demonstrating your lack of skill and obedience.

Now, I have more than one arrow in my quiver. I can do the three-minute children’s lesson, the fifteen-minute full-dress sermon, or the forty-five minute lecture or Bible study. Each is good for different things. But especially when you consider the liturgy as a whole, the hypertrophy of the sermon means that other important things get squeezed. It may come as a shock, or an affront, to some clergy, but people come to church for more than to hear the preacher talk. I was doing a Sunday morning service at a weekend at Scout camp. We sang two or three songs, we prayed for everybody’s needs, we read Scripture, I preached the Word . . . and as we were leaving, a ten-year-old boy said in amazement, “that only took about fifteen minutes.” I looked at him and said, “But we did everything we were supposed to. You know, it doesn’t have to hurt, Clark.”
roadkill soup

Another day banging nails

I was at Menards when they opened at 6:00 a.m. this morning to buy 3/4 ton of lumber and schlep it out to Wilderstead. While I was stacking 2x10s in the trailer, a barn-type cat came sauntering in and entered a bay. After a while, it came out and entered another bay. It was obviously hunting. Aha! I thought: a working cat. And a song came unbidden to my mind.
I'm a lumbercat and I'm okay,
I prowl all night and I sleep all day.
(She's a lumbercat and she's okay,
she prowls all night and she sleeps all day.)

I like to stretch and lick myself
and roam among the stacks.
I want a little mousie
for my mid-morning snack.

I stink at backing up trailers, and doing a three-point turn in my drive at Wilderstead is hard enough. So I bought myself a detachable ball to add a hitch to my tractor. Once I got into my site, I dropped the trailer and pulled the truck forward. Then I got out my tractor and hitched the trailer to it. That way, I could pull the load forward for better unloading, and at the end of the day, I could just pull the trailer around via my road spur and position it by the side of my road pointing toward the gate. As I left, I hitched the now empty trailer to my truck and it was Tally-ho for home.

It was a bright, hot day. I got about half my loft joists up. Next time out, I expect to finish that. Then it's on to flooring. Bada-bing, bada-boom. Tomorrow is laundry and taxes. (Oh, be joyful.)