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Wednesday, June 12th, 2019
9:05 am - Why we do it that way
I mentioned to our Scout Camp Director that I had to spend the rest of this week doing Annual Conference. He was surprised. "I thought you were retired," he said. I explained that clergy were members for life. He asked if that meant that I still had to go. Well, no, I said, but this is an election year for General Conference, and it matters.

For those of you who ponder the inequities in our system: why the clergy get half the votes in our Conference system, while remaining only an elite minority within the whole membership of the denomination; why Local Lay Pastors (LLPs) have limited voting right vs. clergy who are ordained elders and deacons (Full Members); here is a brief summary.

The Conference was the name of John Wesley's gathered preachers in England. It was his way of ensuring quality control and making appointments. It was a separate thing from the United Societies, which was the system of Classes, Bands, and Select Societies in which the Methodists expressed their belonging to the movement. The whole system was transplanted to America in 1766.

After the Revolution, Wesley helped the American Methodists set up an independent church, the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Conference (there was only one) was entirely made up of preachers, now clergy within the usual meaning. The Conference elected bishops, approved candidates for ordination, and received their appointments annually from the bishop(s). The preachers were free to travel and attend the conference, which at first was the whole USA. It was several years before a second, Western Conference, was set up for the Methodists across the Appalachians. (The creation of a delegated, General Conference came in 1808.) And the Conference functioned mainly for clergy concerns: credentialing, ordaining, appointing. Laypersons were members of Societies (which vanished with the frontier) and local congregations, whose pastors were appointed by the bishop from the pool of available clergy.

Eventually, congregations became strong and settled enough, and the denomination began addressing more issues than merely preaching and church planting, that the laity began demanding a voice in its governance. Resistance to change was a thing, of course. Eventually, there was a schism, birthing the Methodist Protestant Church, which rejoined the larger branches of Methodism in 1939, long after the ME Church and the ME Church, South, had also admitted Lay Members of Conference.

In any case, the clergy were there as Members in their own right of what is, in effect, the congregation of the clergy. When I was ordained, my membership was transferred from Terre Haute First UMC to the South Indiana Annual Conference, and I haven't been a member of a local church since 1977. The laity were at first called "delegates," since they were elected from the pastoral charges, but were eventually named "members" as well, though their membership is only for the term of their election.

Methodism always encouraged lay preaching, and lay preachers served under the direction of ordained clergy from the beginning. Many were appointed to pastoral charges, as a kind of apprenticeship; however, there eventually arose a kind of "minor league" system, in which some congregations were always appointed lay pastors (now "Licensed Local Pastors") and were never served by elders. So instead of LLP being a transitory stage on the way to ordination, it became a career in itself, especially after Methodism began requiring seminary education of its ordained clergy, and the fluidity of transition from lay preacher to Probationary Membership and finally Full Membership and elder's orders broke down.

In recent quadrennia, the LLPs have agitated for full recognition of their clergy status. They can now be retired, for instance. They have voice and vote in the Annual Conference, except for matters of clergy credentials, election of General Conference delegates, and constitutional amendments (all prerogatives that go back to 1784-1808). Recent GC legislation has given some LLPs the right to vote for GC delegates. They have to have completed the Course of Study or an MDiv degree and have served for at least two years under full-time appointment (or four years under part-time appointment).

If this all seems like a hodge-podge, it is. Nobody planned this out; like Topsy, it just grew. There are some inequities (if not iniquities) in it, but they all have historical roots.

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Monday, June 10th, 2019
5:27 pm - Work thoughts
I read the manuscript of a talk given by Tom Shippey on C.S. Lewis's published diaries (All My Road Before Me) of the 1920s. Various persons have tried to extract from these diary entries various clues to Lewis's life that are, simply, not there. In fact, what is most often missed, says Shippey, is what these entries tell us about the world of work that Lewis was entering upon.

Biographers concentrate on things other than work in a subject's life. There are so many other, more interesting things, to investigate. But work, as such, is one of the biggest things in our lives as we ourselves experience them. Eight hours a day, five days a week, and more, this is what we do. It defines us. And it marks us.

Shippey notes that Lewis's shift from Classics to English in order to land an academic job landed him in the middle of an academic feud and ongoing debacle that has never healed. Both he and J.R.R. Tolkien tried for the whole length of their careers to heal the breach between the Lang. and Lit. people. And they failed. They failed -- so far as their work went. That they succeeded beyond all expectation out in the world beyond academia (and thus, incidentally, proved the point they were struggling to make) has still not been forgiven them by their fellow scholars.

I can see this very clearly. I have, after all, a degree in English, and I can say without fear of being unfair to anyone that all the most important stuff I've ever learned about English -- either as a language or as a body of literature -- I have learned by myself, on the side, or through other disciplines, and not through the coursework in English I have had either in high school or college. The teaching of English at both the secondary and undergraduate level generally fails both Lang. and Lit. The debacle which is college English began just before Lewis entered Oxford as a student, and it has outlasted him by fifty years and counting.

But Shippey isn't just indulging in another harrumph about his own academic field. He is at pains to say that Lewis's bitterness, his judgmentalism, that often shows in his diaries, and which he fought against his whole life can largely be attributed to the nest of scorpions in which he labored for so many years. I can identify with that, too. I have been a Member of a United Methodist Annual Conference for over forty years. There were things I hoped to accomplish in that span, a shared pride and unity that I looked forward to celebrating, that have mostly eluded me.

I'm not talking about the sum of all my experiences in the parish. I'm talking about an experience of the church that most laypersons cannot understand. As a Full Member of the clergy, a whole lot of my identity is necessarily bound up in Conference relationships, Conference politics, Conference successes or failures. As a retired elder, the Conference is my local church in a way the congregation I participate in each week cannot be. And it has marked me.

Nowadays, we are desperate for young clergy. When I entered the union, eager to belong and to shoulder my share of the responsibilities, I was told -- explicitly -- to shut up and stay out of the way until I was asked to ascend to wider participation. I volunteered for many things we said we were hard up for people to do, to no avail. It took me years to be accepted as a responsible member of the body. My contribution simply was not valued.

As for belonging, well, I had no depth of background with Methodism or the conference. I came in from out of left field. I was willing to work with the liberals (we now generally call them progressives), but I had little sympathy for some of their enthusiasms. As for the evangelicals, since I didn't speak in their code, I couldn't get much traction with them, either, no matter how orthodox I was. Like Lewis, who ultimately tried to make his own subject out of the battling factions he was presented with, I tried to chart my own course. But that means that at the end of the day, I still don't really feel like I belong anywhere.

And now come yet more elections to General Conference. I am fairly jaded about this. In one sense, it doesn't really matter who wins these elections: The United Methodist Church is breaking up, and nothing anybody can do can probably stop that. The only questions are whether we will separate peaceably or un-peaceably, and who leaves the remainder to whom. I do not think that four years from now I will belong to the same denomination I do now. I may leave it, or it may leave me, but there is no holding us all together.

And while finding myself in a new, and perhaps less contentious, church setting may be a good thing, with service to God I can still offer, nothing can return to me or to my colleagues the years the locust has eaten, the opportunities we have lost, the things we might have done and the things we might have built for Christ. So while I am reasonably hopeful for the future, and not clinging to the bitterness of the past, yet -- it has marked me.

In the end, none of us is guaranteed what the world calls success. None of us is guaranteed high position, or an institutional legacy that will outlast our lifetime. We must be content to aim for faithfulness, not success. And in that, I have done my best. I have kept my vows. I have found my share of the lost and brought them home, even if their number is less than someone else's. My life has not been wasted. But in the stillness of the night, my own voice reproaches me with what I postponed, with what I could have done, in order to wrestle with stupid feuds and useless tasks and wearying responsibilities imposed on me by an organization that is now dying (and taking an unconscionably long time doing it).

When those feelings -- and those of regret that I can no longer summon the energies I once had or count on the time to use them -- I remind myself of Dante being told by Virgil to run his fingers through the wet grass on the shore of Mt. Purgatory and wash his face in the dew, so that the tears he shed in Hell may be wiped away and he may present a cheerful countenance. For the first duty of the pentitent soul is cheerfulness, not to regret the sins that are left behind, and not to wallow in regret for lost opportunities, either, but to press ahead. After all, landing on the shores of Purgatory means that you are saved, not lost, and God is still ahead of you, with a mountain still to be climbed all the way to the top. And may it be so.

As often as I descend into the trough, I climb back out and set my face to go on.

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Saturday, June 8th, 2019
11:00 pm - Scouting and the New Methodism(s)
I spent the day at a board retreat for Hoosier Trails Council BSA. Over lunch, a fellow United Methodist and I talked church politics, of which most of us have had our fill. We were interested, however, in asking ourselves what effect the UM upheaval would have upon our relationship with BSA. (The UMC will become the undisputed largest charter partner of BSA at the end of this year, as the LDS Church ceases to charter BSA units directly.)

Seen from one angle, it shouldn't change much. Even if The UMC fragments into two or three major pieces, all of those congregations that charter Cub Packs or Scout Troops will probably still do so. Congregations of different theological orientations do that now. But there is one new wrinkle.

Looking at the decline of many of our once-flagship congregations, a new thought occurred to me. We have been the community's meeting place. If you want to hold a meeting or have a group hosted -- whether a Library Board or Tri Kappa scholarship committee or a Girl Scout Troop or an after-school tutoring group, in town after town across the nation the doors of the local United Methodist church are always open. This is not merely a matter of hospitality; this has been a dominant model for ministry over the last fifty years. Call it the community engagement model. Churches were urged to not become enclaves of their own people only, but to interpenetrate their communities -- to invite the wider world in, and to get out and mix with it as well. We didn't emphasize calling people to discipleship in Christ; no, the watchword was "presence." Our presence within the community, and our willingness to bring people together in useful ways was supposed to communicate the power of God somehow.

Well, that model is dying along with the congregations that have practiced it. What few growing, dynamic churches we have tend to focus, laser-like, on their particular mission statement. For traditionalist churches, that has been making disciples. For radical churches, that has been understood in different ways, but still . . . the idea that we are supposed to run a community center and call it ministry is not something the people who are building a future for their churches are into.

So, as The UMC breaks up into smaller denominations, each more passionate about their vision of ministry, each more focussed on leaving the current conflict behind them and building the future they think the other side is holding them back from, those who are trying to plant new Scouting units in these congregations will face a more challenging environment. No longer can they assume that just giving the Scouts a home and being vaguely proud of them is something a Methodist church is interested in doing. No, those wanting to plant new BSA units in these more-focussed churches are going to have to make the case that Scouting offers something that will help those churches achieve their mission goals in measurable ways.

If the mission is "make disciples of Jesus Christ," then exactly HOW does chartering a Cub Pack, Scout Troop, or Venturing Crew help make that happen? The question is no longer, "how much (or how little) do you expect of us?" The question will be, "why should we expend limited resources on what looks like a distraction from our main mission?" Yes, yes, we know that Scouting is good for kids. But tell us how it will be good for US. How will it support what WE are trying to do? Don't ask us to help you achieve your goals, tell us how you can help us achieve OUR goals.

Now, I can do that. It's the focus of the Scouting Ministry training I've done for years. But it's hard to get the attention of those who don't think they need to listen. And if I, a fellow clergyperson, struggle to get the attention of these pastors and congregational leaders, then other BSA leaders who don't speak our ecclesiastical jargon and who haven't researched our understanding of our mission will do even less well.

BSA has leaned hard on their UM connection in recent years, and we've been there for them. But most Scouters I know are counting on a particular outlook on the part of Methodist churches, without realizing that they are hitching their wagons to an endangered breed of congregations. In the New Methodism(s), there will be fewer such churches, and thus a diminishing opportunity to place new units in them.

And so, even as I continue to try to explain Scouting to my fellow clergy/church leaders, I try to explain the clergy/church leaders to my fellow Scouters. *Sigh* I probably sound like a crank to both sides. But I want both the Church and the Scouting movement to succeed, and each has so much to offer to the other to make that happen.

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7:48 am - Sobering reports
I spent some time reading the pre-conference reports for the Indiana AC next week. I was shamed into it. My daughter is an Equalizing Member this year, and she was doing her due diligence. I decided that if she still believed in the process enough to read all this guff, I should at least read the parts I thought might be important.

What struck me was the Cabinet Report. This contains, among other things, resolutions for closing churches and moving them from full-time to part-time (or vice versa), realigning charges, etc. Every year, we close a certain number of churches. That's sad, but every human institution has a life cycle, and there comes a time. Some churches have just reached the end of their ability to carry out their mission. No one need assume any negative reasoning.

But I was struck by some of the churches that were moving from full-time to part-time; meaning, they could no longer afford a full-time pastor, especially one with benefits. A couple of these were proud, high-steeple churches whose pastorates were seen as possible stepping stones to the episcopacy. They have huge, beautiful buildings, long-time associations with universities and whatnot. They were the place to be for all the good and great, once upon a time. Yet they can no longer afford their own pastor, but are either to have a part-time pastor or be joined into a two-point charge. How are the mighty fallen.

This is not merely wear and tear. This isn't just normal aging. We have been eating our seed corn, and it is finally used up. There isn't going to be a harvest any more in these places. This is the result of forty years' worth of institutional neglect of our teaching and the cure of souls: not just in these parishes, but all over.

As The UMC begins to fragment, each major fraction assumes that if they could just get free of the others, they could build that newer, brighter future that has eluded us for two generations. The traditionalists warn the progressives that every progressive denomination that has gone where they want to go has declined, badly. But we trads need to take the warning to heart, ourselves. Our churches are declining just as badly in most places. Just escaping the cage match we are currently locked into doesn't automatically mean we finally have a healthy church.

There is an awful lot of work to do.

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Wednesday, June 5th, 2019
9:32 am - Stewards of the Mysteries of God
A friend raised the question of whether we will have too few clergy to fill pulpits if the trads and progs in The UMC split. I replied that we might have too few or too many temporarily, but in the end, there are always too few laborers for the harvest. Our problem is that we have constructed a clergy identity that is more union card than theological; we think in terms of job description and salary-paying units, not the call of God.

And it needs to be said that our unionism has called forth a counter-identity from the Licensed Local Pastors. This identity replaces ordination (which in our union identity is a mere credential) with licensure (which is just another credential, but has fewer rights and perks). The LLPs labor under a sense of injustice: they are just as much pastors as the elders -- they can even celebrate the sacraments -- but they are deprived of certain other things and made to feel "less than." But this is as skewed a view as the jobbery of the permanent clergy.

We need to recover a real theology of ordination, in order to recover a clergy identity that will actually serve us -- and serve God's purposes -- in the new Methodism that's a-coming. I think we need to take as our model Paul's statement, "This is how you should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God."

What are these mysteries we have been set apart to be stewards of?

1) We are the collective memory of the Church. We carry her identity from generation to generation, and initiate the young and the outsider into the People of God. Clergy need to know Church History deeply. The Church didn't wander off the path after the apostles died off. It didn't begin again with the Reformation, or with John Wesley. There are saints in every age with wisdom to teach us -- and all of the heresies and follies we complain of were faced by Christians of an earlier age. It follows then, that any attempt to re-do Church "straight from Scripture" will inevitably mean "straight from the ideas that seem hottest to us." Just as we should aspire to be a global church, we should also aspire to be a church of all times as well as all places.

2) We teach the Gospel from the Scriptures. We need to emphasize our mode of interpretation. As it is, we have all kinds of people just making it up to suit themselves. Even if they derive their theology from the Bible, the cacophony of competing theologies means the trumpet is giving an uncertain sound. We need sound Scriptural scholarship and sound methodological and theological training for all clergy. Just divorcing ourselves from the progs doesn't mean that we will all be together on this: the trads have as many private takes on Scripture as the progs do, even if we all agree on the definition of particular sins.

3) We restrict the right to celebrate the sacraments to those authorized by the Church -- i.e., the clergy. But you'll still see baptism and communion done all kinds of ways, with all kinds of odd things put in and/or left out. I'm not a ritualist, but there ought to be some uniformity (at least of pattern) here. One reason we restrict the sacraments to the clergy is to see that they are well done, and that abuses don't creep in.

4) Now, I was one of the first student pastors to be given the right to baptize and celebrate communion before ordination. That was following the 1976 General Conference; I was ordained a deacon in 1977. My local churches appreciated having a pastor who could do these things very much. But as it is, we really have extremely minimal training requirements before we give you a License to Preach and the bishop says you have sacramental faculties. I would go back to restricting the right to celebrate to the ordained (and I would go back to the two-step ordination of deacon to elder, which is our historic pattern). This is not encouraging a clerisy; I would ordain (as deacon) far more liberally than we have done. We need to get away from equating ordination with full membership in the conference and guaranteed appointment. I would require MORE training of LLPs to serve, but LESS to be ordained. Basically, we need to say that if you've been called to give your life to this service, then both you and we need to commit to giving that full expression. You need to commit to doing more than making a stab at the Course of Study as it now is; meanwhile, we (the elders) need to commit to ordaining those who share our call, instead of restricting ordination to those who have MDivs, etc.

5) We need to re-orient ourselves to serving the church. Every congregation is a real church, and every congregation needs the ministry that the clergy provide. That means every church needs to be under the ministry of a qualified elder, and that elder needs to see that those churches get the same attention that the big churches get -- in terms of the mysteries noted, above. That doesn't mean that every little country church is to have all the time that a full-time pastor can give lavished upon it, nor does it mean that every little country church has to pay the bill for a full-time pastor, with benefits. Some churches are never going to be much more than they are, but they serve a purpose. That's fine. But even as we begin planting new churches in areas where there are good prospects for growth, we need to still give the same quality of service to those members who belong to small churches in areas of less population. For along with our creation of a tiered, unionist clergy identity, we have created a tiered congregational identity, which not only deprives many people of the ministry they should be getting, but which muddies our denominational identity.

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Sunday, June 2nd, 2019
8:02 am - It's that time of year again
The Indiana Annual Conference meets next week. Normally, that's not a big deal. In the last few years, our conference has made great progress in achieving irrelevance; we are hardly to be mistaken for a serious ministry organization. The clergy, of course, particularly those coming into the profession, need a credentialing agency, and we function as that. But fewer people seem to attend each year.

Until this year. Downtown Indy hotels are booked solid. All the chickens are coming home to roost: retired clergy who rarely attend; lay members from small congregations that have blown off the big gathering for years. It's an election year for General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates. And, well, GC19 happened.

A lot of progressive clergy are really angry. They are making a push to overturn the actions of General Conference. And a lot of traditionalist laity have just found out what their beloved clergy actually believe, and they are furious. I'm not looking forward to the drama. It promises to be a wearying, draining experience.

It'll take a while -- maybe a couple of years -- to clarify the situation, but I'm already looking past it. At some point, we either separate amicably or somebody just up and leaves. We can't go on this way.

I look back to my entry into The United Methodist Church. We were newlyweds, trying to figure out the church thing. My parents had been given a copy of our doctrinal standards from The BOD as part of a new member orientation class they were taking at their church. I read the Articles of Religion for the first time and thought, "I'd like to belong to a church that believes that." We noted that there was a UM church just a couple blocks away from our first apartment. One Sunday, we went there and crashed the doors cold. Deanne was baptized and I was confirmed in that church. It's the only local church I've ever been a member of (my membership was transferred to the Conference upon my ordination).

That was 45 years ago. I'd still like to belong to a church that believes the Articles of Religion, if I could just find one. And I'm still looking for a church in which I can fulfill my ordination promises not only to teach that faith, but to maintain our polity and to "not mend our rules, but keep them." I've changed in a lot of ways since I started out on this journey, but my original goals are as clear as ever. I'm tired of the conflict, but even more, I'm tired of our wasting everybody's time.

One more Annual Conference. Yet another General Conference. And then: a new quadrennium starts. But if that means just more of the same ol', same ol', then I think that new quadrennium will start without my further involvement. I'm looking for somewhere to live out my vows and do ministry. Trying to do that in an org where vows are not for keeping and which values this incompetently-run medicine show over the doing of ministry is a dead-bang loser. Leave the dead to bury their dead; I want to follow Jesus.

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Friday, May 31st, 2019
4:11 pm - Three yards and a cloud of -- er, mud
Smash-mouth, grind-it-out football is known as "three yards and a cloud of dust." Given our Indiana weather, my outdoor construction activities are more characterized by mud than dust, but still, I feel like I just keep hitting the line. Each play moves the ball just a little bit more in a positive direction.

I drove over to Wilderstead today to do some measuring and leveling with 16' lumber and a 4' level. It's not that I distrust the laser level, but I really want to see physical contact and a bubble. The results are encouraging. The difference between my building corner (where everything is measured from) and the low corner of the undercroft wall is barely half an inch. Correcting for that, seven of the eight piers I've made are as near dead level as I can get them; the eighth (the uppermost corner) is only 3/8" low. A little discrete shimming will level my beams after I get the sill plates on.

Meanwhile, my friendly county building inspector is calling for extra post supports in the middle of my 16' spans. Grrr. It's an aggravation, and it'll look jury-rigged to mix posts and piers, but it's an easy fix, and nobody will see it under the house. Meanwhile, I priced what it would take to make beams to span the existing differences, and we're talking tripled 2x16 LVLs. Big and expensive. I could save between two and three thousand dollars by jury-rigging the supports. Hmmm. Gentlemen of the jury, you may commence rigging.

After messing about on the muddy hillside, I drove to the north side of Cincy and tracked down the nail gun shop I found online. Bought myself a gas-powered framing nailer. This means I don't need to run a generator and I don't need to also buy an air compressor. And it's not terribly heavy. This one weighs 7.2 lb. I looked at a battery-only one that weighed an ginormous 9.2 lb. Anyway, I figure after I'm done framing, I'll sell my nail gun to somebody who'll get more use out of it and turn around and buy a finish nailer. Then I'll sell that one when I'm done with it.

In other news, the hemlock is all over the valleys. (I hate hemlock.) The catalpas are blooming, which means full summer is just around the corner. (Catalpas are about the last tree to bloom in the spring.) And everywhere, road crews are digging up and rebuilding highways. Long stretches of I-74 WB are down to bare dirt.

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Wednesday, May 29th, 2019
10:54 am - A special (and very strange) providence
Sexuality has always seemed to me an odd thing upon which to define one’s denominational identity. Over the course of my career, I have addressed the particular issues from the pulpit only rarely. I have always been welcoming to everyone in my churches, including my gay parishioners. It is not my responsibility, generally speaking, to throw penalty flags at individuals, and certainly not my job to march off yardage against them. That said, I understand that it IS my job to declare and define the “ought-ness” of life, even in the face of all the “is-ness” that contradicts it.

But really, there are far deeper issues within The United Methodist Church, for which sexuality is merely the proxy or presenting issue. Over on the progressive side, we have clergy who don’t believe the basic things our Articles of Religion or the Creeds teach. We have clergy who not only pick and choose out of what the Bible says, but we have clergy who don’t accept the Bible as a source of authority, period. Now, not everyone who disagrees with the traditionalist side in the sexuality debates is a heretic or a heathen; but that there are heretics and heathens among the clergy, especially on the left side of the aisle, is indisputable.

And this is not to ignore the presence on the traditionalist side of some very strange theologies as well. We have dispensationalists and crypto-Baptists whose understanding of the sacraments is not ours, we have holiness and charismatic folks who use the same terminology to refer to different things, we have people who think they’re orthodox but who have defective Christologies. Again, perhaps only a few on the traditionalist side are really “out there,” but it makes me wary of identifying myself with their other causes too comfortably.

How is it that you can hear virtually anything from a United Methodist pulpit? Why does the sign out front not tell you anything about what the people inside uphold and are being taught? I suppose it is the result of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. Modernism captured the elites of Methodism a hundred years ago, but the laity didn’t follow them. In order to keep things going, the clergy began to speak in a sort of code. The code was constructed to sound very religious, which kept the laity from objecting, and centered a lot on right behavior, on social holiness and so on, which, again, the laity could follow. At the same time, “freedom of the pulpit” became a kind of idol. Wesley’s comment to a Roman Catholic, that “we think and let think” was frequently quoted (out of context). But to those who knew the code, the things actually said often contradicted what we all swore we would teach. And that was okay. Some people made a hobby out of seeing how close they could come to outright denying the faith and still keep their orders; meanwhile, over on the other side, evangelicals figured that so long as they paid their apportionments and played the game, they could therefore say anything they wanted, too.

The result of all this is that the laity have mostly tuned out what the clergy actually SAY. Progressive and traditionalist pastors succeed each other in the same pulpits, but the laity don’t notice the difference unless the incumbent is really out on the fringe, either way. So long as we sound religious on Sunday morning and talk about treating people right – and are loving and open to people in our personal lives – we pass muster. People hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe, and the church goes on. Not that it prospers under such an arrangement – as Paul said, if the trumpet doesn’t give a clear call, nobody is going to know where to go in the battle – but church seems like church, and the doors stay open for another year, and the bishop sends us a new pastor who re-arranges everything in the service (and we can’t do anything about it), and that’s just life in The UMC.

So, why sexuality? Why is that the line drawn in the sand? I think it’s because, unlike so many things, there comes a time when you can’t disguise what you’re being asked to approve of. Not that ordinary people are going to throw stones at the gay people they know – and everybody knows some; but when we take something we are pretty sure is wrong, or off-kilter, or not really part of the “ought-ness” of life, and then not only define it as acceptable, but as good – part of the bonum esse of creation, a thing to be celebrated, not allowed for; and if celebrated, then encouraged in all its multitudinous forms – then that seems like a bridge too far. Traditionalist clergy talk about the holiness code – the moral law, as distinct from the ceremonial law – in the Bible, and how that hasn’t changed. Progressive clergy attempt to confuse the two, in order to claim that we can dispense with definitions we don’t like.

And then, after arguing over it for literally forty years, suddenly it all came to a head. The progs made one last push to enact their agenda, and it failed. The global majority (as distinct from the majority of the American leadership) said No. And that enraged the other side. They are no longer talking in code, now. They are organizing and fully intending to make everybody swallow the pill they insist we must take in order to become the kind of church they think we ought to be. Centrists and radicals are joining hands to support the most extreme result. Can the trads resist? Will the settlement achieved at GC19 be perfected at GC20 – or overturned? Will we fight until somebody is pitched out, or will we figure out how to sort ourselves into different denominations and turn our attention to other things? Nobody knows right now.

My own feeling is that sexuality is pretty small potatoes when compared with dogma. But when sexuality becomes dogma, then that has to be addressed. And that’s where we are. I don’t know how it will all come out, but I know that I have to testify to the truth, regardless of my fears or desires. To quote Hamlet, as he readied himself to face his own, final confrontation:
We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come — the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.

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Saturday, May 25th, 2019
2:49 pm - Jacob and Laban: striking a deal
In a previous post, I pointed out that separation of the two warring sides in The UMC could be effected by Division, Secession, or Withdrawal. There are historical examples of each. The Free Methodists and the AME Church are both examples of individuals or small groups withdrawing from the body to form a new one. The ME Church, South is an example of whole parts of the church seceding from the other parts. But what about division? Has that ever happened? As a matter of fact, it has. In 1870, the ME Church, South span off its black membership into a separate denomination, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (now calling itself the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church). How would that work within our current context? Here's my take on it.

Plan of Separation for GC 2020

GC 2020 authorizes the following:

1. The creation of a 21-member Steering Committee (7 bishops, 7 clergy, 7 laity) to prepare for the creation of (temporary name) The Progressive Methodist Church.

2. Scheduling and budgeting for an Organizing Conference for The PMC in May 2022.

3. Between the close of GC 2020 and the end of calendar year 2021, any Annual Conference may declare its intention to withdraw from The UMC and join The PMC by majority vote.

4. Between the close of GC 2020 and the end of calendar year 2021, any local church may declare its intention to withdraw from The UMC and join The PMC; local churches within ACs which have voted to join The PMC may declare their intention to remain with The UMC.

5. Between the close of GC 2020 and the end of calendar year 2021, any clergy member, active or retired, may declare his or her intention to withdraw from The UMC and join The PMC; any clergy member of an AC which has voted to join The PMC may declare his or her intention to remain with The UMC.

6. Scheduling and budgeting for a called General Conference to deal with connectional matters (creating or combining Annual Conferences and Jurisdictional Conferences in the wake of decisions made by ACs) and with financial matters (both budgetary and distribution of assets) that arise in conjunction with the creation of The PMC. Called General Conference of The UMC to meet simultaneously with the Organizing Conference of The PMC.

7. Between the close of GC 2020 and the end of calendar year 2021, every delegate to GC and JC/CC shall declare his or her intention to transfer to The PMC or remain with The UMC. These will form the membership of the Organizing Conference of The PMC and the Called General Conference of The UMC. Every bishop, active and retired, will also declare his or her intention to transfer to The PMC or remain with The UMC.

8. The Organizing Conference of The PMC will receive and act on petitions from those Conferences, clergy, and local churches choosing to affiliate with it. These petitions shall all be proposed amendments to the existing Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. At the conclusion of the OC, The PMC will begin operating under its own BOD thereafter.

9. Working teams from the proposed PMC and The UMC will prepare a plan of separation that addresses issues relating to endowments, General Agencies, pensions, etc. Final transfer of assets and organizations from The UMC to The PMC will come as a grant from the CGC/UMC (which means it has to be approved by The UMC; ideally, both groups would agree on the split, but if there is a controversy, The UMC gets the tie-breaker).

10. Both the OC/PMC and the CGC/UMC will prepare budgets for their respective denominations to carry them through until their next regular General Conferences.

Or, we could just have another brawl, with winners and losers like last time, hoping that the losers will give up and just leave before the winners have to pitch them out.

Some of the progressives are making noises about repealing the stuff placed in the BOD last time -- and more, repealing stuff going back to 1972. I doubt their ability to do that, even with all the electoral and procedural skullduggery they can dredge up. But suppose they did manage to do it. They would inherit a UMC reduced to a smoking ruin.

On the other hand, they could cut a deal now, when the traditionalists are open for business and feeling charitable. They would wind up with as much of the church in the end as they would get by fighting for it, and it would be in much better shape for the future they envision for it.

We'll see what they choose between now and next spring.

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Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019
10:03 am - Methought I heard a voice
In writing my magnum opus on Christian Education, I'm trying to find what critics call "my voice." That isn't quite the same thing as "style." The writer has to locate oneself in relation to the things one's book discusses, and to the stories one tells.

This includes a sense of time. I drafted the first couple of chapters six years ago, so in re-reading them, I sense the author (me) as a pastor currently serving as a pastor. "The way I do that . . ." is the typical expression. But now, as a retired person, I say, "the way I did that" (past tense). That will all have to be smoothed out, made consistent, in the final editing.

But I write also as a United Methodist elder. The intended audience, of course, is wider than just United Methodists (though that's a pretty large audience), but a Presbyterian or Baptist or Catholic reading my stuff can allow for my limitations. But if I finish this book this year and get it into print next spring, will all my illustrations and advice become out of date if The United Methodist Church disintegrates at General Conference 2020? How do I write the book so that it remains readable and relevant in a post-UM ecclesiastical milieu (especially since none of us know exactly what that milieu will look like)?

I need to find my relationship to whatever comes next. That will define my voice, give people a way to relate to what I'm saying. 'Tis a puzzlement. I must cogitate upon the possibilities.

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Friday, May 17th, 2019
9:28 pm - Sharing my latest post
I scooted over to Lonceburg early to the rental place and checked out a "one-man" auger on a 3-hour rental. Looking to make quick work of that post hole I needed to make. Took me damn near three hours to pick up the auger, wrestle it into position, drill, recover, take back to the rental place, and then finish by hand. These one-man augers are "one-man" only if that one guy is, like, Paul Bunyan or the Mighty Hulk. And if you're on any sort of a hill or even a little incline, forget it. When I returned the machine, the guy who checked it back in asked how it went. I replied that it was like giving a rhinoceros an enema.

In order to raise the post, I used the tractor hood for a fulcrum, then slid it over into the hole. Then I climbed up the tire, then onto the hood bodily, in order to keep raising the post until it was all the way in the bottom of the hole. Then I braced it, used my post-leveler to check for plumb, and mixed up two bags of high-stress concrete. Ain't it purty?


My latest post
Also I hope my last

Anyway, this 16-foot post will carry the 200 amp wire from REMC's pole-to-be to the next two poles and on to my cabin. Eventually, the line will cross the second gully and carry power to the house I'm working on.

Having spent the better part of three hours working on the first item on the day's menu, I was already exhausted and the day was heating up. I did manage to make the light frame of 2x4s on top of the undercroft wall to check square and level. Square is pretty much dead on (go, me!); level ain't bad, but there's a low corner. Once I get the sill plate on, the beams carrying the platform will have to be shimmed a bit here and there. Next time I'm working in the holler, the frame will be used to check square and level from the undercroft wall to the piers.

Halfway through the day's fun, I noticed that I had a big tear in my right boot. I don't think it's repairable. So I'll be looking for a new pair of boots next.


Blew a hole in this old tire
Time for a new pair of boots

The sun got blazing hot. I drank nearly a gallon of water and had to sit in the shade frequently. I think it's time to adjust my timing so that I arrive in the holler at the crack of dawn, and quit by the time the sun is directly overhead. I finally finished up about 3:00 today and put all my tools away. Then I took my first creek bath of the year, which was delightful. Got home a little after 6:00, utterly bushed.

I didn't get everything done I was aiming for today, but I got a full day's work in. Excelsior!

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Thursday, May 16th, 2019
9:43 am - Some thoughts on growing Scouting
Our Boy Scout Council, like most of them, wrestles with numbers. BSA is a declining institution. We keep looking for the magic formula that yields consistent growth. I see a lot of parallels with The UMC. Both UMC and BSA are old, established institutions with immense institutional assets: properties, outlets, brand loyalty, publishing capacity, history, etc. The UMC is declining, too, at least in the USA.

The way to growth for both institutions is deceptively simple: start new units/congregations. Yes, we should support existing units/congregations, but trying to grow established outlets into the next size category (and so, yield overall growth) is probably not going to happen. Each group knows the size it likes to be and knows how to be. The leadership of a group is not often trainable in becoming the next size up, and will face resistance from the group members as well. So yes, support existing outlets, but if you want growth, you gotta start new outlets. Of those new startups, many will not continue past a certain point. But as long as they exist and deliver the program for long enough to make an impact on those participating, then we’ve done our job.

I think we’ve also got to remember that both BSA and UMC are about relationships. Let me leave church behind for a moment and just talk about Scouting. Baden-Powell talked about Scouting as “an adventure in good company.” It’s a game we play with others that affects the whole of our lives.

There are three primary relationships that make a unit succeed. First, there are the Scouts. The relationships among the youth determine whether it’s fun or not. Many lifelong friendships come out of Scouting, and we want to encourage this. Toward that end, we need to keep a watch out for bullying, but also for the kid who just kind of drifts through the program, that nobody makes friends with. Working with the Scouts to develop fellow-feeling with each other is fundamentally important. Kids want to belong. Where they belong, they will believe (in what the group promotes). And where they belong and believe, they will try to behave (match their behaviors to expectations).

Second, there is the unit leader. The prototype is the Scoutmaster. What I say is true of Cubmasters and Venturing Advisors, too, but especially of Scoutmasters. There are other important adults involved in a unit, but there is only one Leader. This man/adult has the job of doing all the Scoutmaster conferences, of training the youth leadership but also relating to each Scout individually. His importance is shown by the fact that everyone who was ever a Scout seems to have a Scoutmaster story. Some of them are good, a few are bad, but everybody remembers his Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster is offered as a role model, a hero figure – not because we want the kids to follow him like puppies, but because kids need heroes and are looking for somebody to occupy that role in their lives. Scoutmasters, coaches, teachers, soldiers can’t nominate themselves for the position of Hero to Youth; youth decide whom to follow.

A good Scoutmaster can make a unit hum. A mediocre Scoutmaster will often see a unit under his leadership decline. And even among good Scoutmasters, there are 5-boy Scoutmasters, 10-boy Scoutmasters, 15- or 25-boy Scoutmasters. Just as each group knows the size it wants to be, each Leader knows mostly how to lead a group of a given size. The critical point is at leadership turnover. When naming a new Scoutmaster, you want someone who can lead a group of the same size or larger than the one the previous Scoutmaster led. With someone who’s never held that position before, you are obviously taking a risk, but one you can’t not take. We've always got to be looking for new leaders and giving them a chance.

Third, there is a charter partner, the community organization that “owns” that unit. Many are churches. Teaching charter partners how to operate a unit and tending to the relationship so that unit and partner interpenetrate each other are important to the long-term success of the unit. Just looking for a “sponsor” to leave the unit alone to do its own thing will mean there’s no support when the unit gets in trouble. Many a unit dies because nobody got the charter partner really on board with it, nobody helped the charter partner understand how to do Scouting so as to meet its own organizational goals.

When starting a new BSA unit of any sort, you can start with any of these three relationships. You can, obviously, gather a bunch of kids together, then turn to the assembled parents and say, “They’re ready to go for it – who’s going to lead them?” And then you go find a charter partner. OR, you can identify a new unit leader, perhaps several leaders, who will set out to recruit youth and find a charter partner. OR, you can start with the charter partner, and then identify leadership and recruit youth.

Finding youth who want to have fun in the woods is usually not a problem. Problems arise when you have a bunch of kids in hand and no leadership or unit home. Then you risk disappointing kids, and they may write you off and never give you another chance to hook them. It’s usually better to start with one of the other two legs of the stool. Grooming adults for leadership, identifying successors (to established units) and pioneers (to start new units) is something that all of us in District and Council leadership need to be aware of and working on. Our training programs, our Commissioner staffs, and others need to acquire eyes to see who is ready to take on the challenge of unit leadership. In the church, we talk about maintaining a “culture of Call.” We want to foster an atmosphere where people imagine themselves taking that role. And then we need to equip them as well as we can, and support them once they’ve committed themselves.

Maintaining good charter partner relationships and fostering new ones is largely left to the professional staff, but a good Relationships Committee can help here. So can the various Scouting support organizations that exist among the charter partners themselves. Some organizations (like The UMC) are consistent and widespread supporters, whom we need to cultivate. Those charter partners that already have a unit or two can be appealed to to start yet another, and you’ve already got a working relationship with them.

The last time I created a new unit, I was the fairly new pastor of a church with a long Scouting history. We had a Pack and a Troop, both approaching 40 or more years in tenure. Some parents came to me and said, “We want a Venturing Crew, and we know you’ve had experience with that.” So, there were already some youth showing interest. I was willing to be an Advisor, and we had some other parents, so we had leadership. The church was on board. I brought everybody together, we filled out applications and paperwork and organized ourselves and I went down to the Council office to file the paperwork. We had a new DE, just hired on, who was tasked with achieving growth. Another DE was asking him, “How are you going to go about starting all these new units?” At that point, I walked in and gave the new DE all my paperwork and a check to start a new Crew. After I left, my DE turned to the other DE and said, “Like that, I guess.”

In the early days of BSA, the promise of Scouting lit up the culture. A lot of units just organized themselves. Many times, it was the boys themselves who would organize a troop, then go seek a Scoutmaster and a charter partner. Likewise, many clergy were intrigued by the possibilities of discipling young men through this program, and many volunteered for unit leadership themselves. Scouting was in the air, and people were interested in what could be done with it. As Council leaders, our goal should be to work all our relationships so that we create an atmosphere of expectation. Young and old, individuals and organizations, will be aware of the possibilities of that "adventure in good company." Once we get back into the habit of starting new units, new units will largely start themselves. And our job will just be to assist at the birth.

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Wednesday, May 15th, 2019
7:56 pm - My $0.02 worth
When I was in junior high, I was in love with Latin. I hadn’t taken Latin yet, but both my older sisters had, and my mother had in her youth, too. I read a lot of mythology, I knew Roman history, I was primed for it. And I enjoyed my two years of Latin in high school. I can still function in the language to some extent.

That said, I began to feel the tug of Old English at about the age of fourteen. Reading The Lord of the Rings probably prompted this interest, but I had already spent a long time poring over the maps in my mother’s History of England college text. I knew all the kingdoms in the Heptarchy. Unfortunately, I never found any college course in Old English. I never even had a course in the history of the English language – and I’m an English major! So, I’ve had to learn Old and Middle English on my own.

In college, I opted to take German. Five semesters of it. This is the only foreign language I can say I am reasonably fluent in. I can read German, and I can talk on the street in German – as I did a couple years ago in Switzerland. I try to keep up with it.

In seminary, I took a cram course in Koiné Greek, followed by Exegetical Grammar and a Preaching and Exegesis course. I still get out my Greek NT, Concordance, and Lexicon at times, especially if I’m working on a new Bible study. I thought about taking Hebrew in seminary, but by the time I had room for it in my schedule I was a senior and desperate to get out of school. My poor brain was too tired to take on another language. I regret this now.

Since then, I’ve learned to exchange pleasantries in Swahili and French, and I can puzzle out signs and menus and headlines in French, Spanish, and Italian. When one of my Dutch friends posts on FB in his native language, I can often make out most of what he’s saying.

I love accents and dialects and learning the history of words and expressions.

I think the way we teach English in public schools is bizarre, and the way we teach foreign languages is largely useless. Any attempt at curricular reform that doesn’t address the misology of the education establishment will yield no net improvement. In Scouting today, as in the rest of society, we are all trying to show how up to date we are with new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs. But America is still a leader in STEM fields. What Scouting could do to help the youth of America is to launch a Grammar Merit Badge.

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11:44 am - A suggestive linguistic trifle
In The Lord of the Rings, there is a land called Khand, southeast of Mordor, whose people are tributary to Sauron. They take part in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. They are called Variags. One presumes they are Men, not Orcs or Trolls or whatnot. The name is never explained by Tolkien, and no information on their culture or history is ever given.

That said, Tom Shippey points out in Laughing Shall I Die that the Swedish vikings who went east and south to Constantinople and became the Rus originally called themselves vær-gengi, which means those who travel together in a business enterprise (piracy or trade). In Constantinople, this became the name of the emperor's Varangian Guard. It survived into modern Russian, though, as varyag = "trader, pedlar."

Not saying that Tolkien imagined the Variags of Khand to be piratical, mercantile, or mercenary. But as a people of the distant East, living at the southernmost extremity of the plains of Rhun, perhaps he pulled the name out of the recesses of his mind as one that just "sounded right."

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Sunday, May 12th, 2019
8:33 am - On the question of the inerrancy of the Bible
One of the things that many evangelicals agree upon is that the Bible is “inerrant.” In popular understanding, inerrancy seems like magical reasoning, but in technical expressions, it isn’t any better. When challenged on various problematic readings of the text, inerrantists say the Bible is inerrant “in the original autographs.” But we don’t have the original autographs, and unless the copies we have are sufficiently credible on their own, affirming belief in something that is not available to us avails us nothing.

Not affirming inerrancy doesn’t mean I don’t think the Bible is true, nor does it mean that I think its authority is less than plenary. I’m not alleging any errors in the Bible, nor dividing it into “buckets” and saying what’s in some of the buckets can be declared outdated or not God’s will. I’m not casting doubts upon the inspiration of the Bible. I’m just saying that inerrancy is a gimmick and doesn’t add any value to a discussion of the Bible’s truth claims.

The Bible contains doctrine, moral commandments, and testimony to historical events. The doctrine and moral commandments are both of the highest authority. They are final and supreme. They can be further developed (as in the Creeds), but they cannot be repealed or contradicted without direct intervention by Jesus Christ himself, appearing and speaking in his own proper person. And both doctrine and moral commandments hinge upon those divine appearances and the apostolic testimony to them. At bottom, it is the historical events – particularly the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – which give authority to the rest of the Bible’s testimony. And in judging the truth claims of an event like the resurrection, we cannot appeal to inerrancy.

To take an ordinary example of how we examine historical truth claims, let us suppose that we are staying at an old, charming house – now an inn, or a bed and breakfast – which bears a sign in the window, saying, “George Washington slept here.” How do we know that is true? Well, we can check people’s diaries and newspaper accounts from the time to determine Washington’s movements. If we can’t find a contemporary account or an eye-witness’s later testimony, we can at least establish the date from which the claim started to be made. If the owners of the house began publicizing Washington’s overnight occupancy in, say, 1810, that’s pretty good evidence, if not definitive. After all, they could have been lying or mistaken, but in 1810 there were still a lot of people around who had known Washington and had traveled with him at the time alleged; if the claim was publicized then and not contradicted by witnesses in a position to weigh in on it, we are inclined to let it stand. But arguing for the inerrancy of the notice in the window, or its publisher, adds nothing to make what the sign says more likely to be true.

In Paul’s defense before the Roman Governor Festus and King Herod Agrippa, this is precisely the kind of argument Paul makes. When Festus says that Paul is mad, he replies that there are living witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, and that Agrippa knows all about it. “These things were not done in a corner,” he says. It’s only been about thirty years since the event itself. It doesn’t take belief in Paul’s personal vision of Christ to establish the ordinary historical event as true. Paul doesn’t even cite the Old Testament Scriptures except in passing; and of course, the New Testament hadn’t been completed yet. Inerrancy, even of “the original autographs” is entirely beside the point here.

And how do we know about the event – the resurrection itself - and Paul’s defense of it? By establishing the reliability of the New Testament, as a text written within living memory and recording facts that other witnesses could have challenged at the time. And how do we know that the NT itself was not made up long after and/or meddled with? Because the NT is the best-attested document from antiquity. There are 13,000 early copies or portions to establish the text. There are even a few references outside the Christian community that talk about events testified to within the NT. None of this requires an inerrant Bible to establish. The Bible’s authority – especially the New Testament’s authority – comes from the apostles’ witness to, and instruction by, the risen Christ. If that event is true, then the doctrine and moral commandments present themselves as binding upon those who believe the event.

So why the talk of inerrancy? Two reasons. First, the Protestant Reformation posited a Bible whose authority trumped that of the Pope and other ecclesiastical officials. It had to be conceived of as prior to Church tradition, instead of as part of the tradition. Second, when the liberal higher critics began challenging the Bible’s integrity in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries as a way of challenging the authority of Protestant preachers, those preachers responded with the doctrine of inerrancy. The liberal critics had invented a test that the Bible was guaranteed to fail; they had rigged the inquiry. The conservatives therefore invented a test that the Bible was guaranteed to pass; which just meant, rigging the inquiry in the other direction.

The truth of the resurrection can be argued on the same basis as that of George Washington’s repose. It’s either true, or it’s not. Claiming inerrancy for the words of the testimony is begging the question.

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Thursday, May 9th, 2019
5:04 pm - Doubling down
I seem to have stirred up a pot of, er, stuff, with my Facebook post featuring Karen Oliveto as Mad Madam Mim:

same old mim

To be honest, I hesitated to create and post this meme (Mim?). I feared to give offense to some of my progressive friends, whom I value; this, despite some of the fierce and ugly things some of them say about people on my side of things. (I was not prepared for how many of my conservative colleagues would be offended. That surprised me.) Anyway, I finally went through with it: First, because I actually think it's funny, and pretty dead-on (When I saw the news photo of Dr. Oliveto, I was immediately struck by the resemblance to Madam Mim. I also once made an election-year meme of Newt Gingrich and Dan Quayle as Pinky and the Brain -- because, well, look at them, for heaven's sake!); Second, because mockery is a key element of resistance.

Those who must suffer underneath tyrants and oppressors, who have no other way to voice their opposition, resort to satire. And satire is effective, against kings and prelates, to be sure, but even against the Devil himself. C.S. Lewis prefaced The Screwtape Letters with two quotes, one from Martin Luther, and the other from Thomas Browne:
"The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." (Luther)

"The devil . . the prowde spirite . . cannot endure to be mocked." (Brown)
As a member and clergyperson of The United Methodist Church, who is stuck with Karen #nosuchbishop Oliveto because she is protected by those who surround her, to make fun of her is to punch UP, not punch DOWN.

So, I am not mocking Oliveto as a woman, or even as a lesbian, but as a prelate foisted upon the whole connection by a radical bunch of delegates to the Western Jurisdiction. She was illegitimately elected, illegitimately consecrated, and illegitimately installed in her office. The other bishops -- not just the WJ, but the whole Council of Bishops -- refuse to remove her or contest her participation as a bishop. Her election was the precipitating event that crystallized all the disbodience in the church into active schism (much as the election of slave-owning bishop Andrew in 1844 did). And her teaching is -- well, "heresy" is a bloodless and clinical word for the kind of lunacy she proclaims. She is, all things considered, a heresiarch. How do we deal with that? Well, until the ecclesiastical machine can grind to a solution, the only weapon we have is mockery.

Which leads me on to consider other villainesses I could have compared her to. Our orthodox Anglican friends were wont to call Katherine Jefferts-Shori, the disastrous Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, "Jadis," the name of the White Witch who rules Narnia and has Aslan put to death. Other Disney villainesses I could have referenced include the Evil Queen/Wicked Witch of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the evil fairy Maleficent of Sleeping Beauty. Both the Wicked Witch and Maleficent are incomparably more serious as villains than Madam Mim. They are not mildly and rather madly murderous, but murderous with a serious intelligence and will. I saw Sleeping Beauty in its first run as a five-year-old, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. But then, Disney used to not shy away from serious consequences for his evil-doers. The Wicked Witch is hit by a lightning bolt and knocked off a mountain to fall to her death, and we call it justice. Maleficent turns herself into a dragon and is slain by the prince, who wields a cross-shaped sword. For that matter, Jadis is killed by Aslan himself in the final battle of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Madam Mim, on the other hand, appears as the villainess of The Sword in the Stone, fighting Merlin in a wizards' duel. Merlin turns himself into a virus or bacterium (I forget which) and infects Mim, and so wins the duel. But Mim is not killed for her evil. She is left to recover from her sickness in bed, drinking chicken soup. She provides a bit of danger for the Wart (Arthur), just to move the plot along, but in the end, she is not the kind of grand figure that Maleficent or the Wicked Witch or Jadis is. She's basically just a troublemaker. Which is what Karen Oliveto is. And besides, she looks like Madam Mim, right down to her jowls, hair, and purple blouse.

Not to your taste? Okay. But let's be clear on this. If you really think that Karen Oliveto ought not be a bishop, you are seriously calling for her to lose her job -- and maybe her clergy credentials. That's a heckuva lot more "unkind" than comparing her to the ditzy troublemaker Mad Madam Mim from a cartoon. So have the courage of your convictions. And lighten up.

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Tuesday, May 7th, 2019
9:33 pm - On approaching the second anniversary of my retirement
I was asked yesterday evening by a couple of Council leaders how I was adjusting to retirement. Did I miss it (meaning, active pastoral ministry)? I replied that I didn't miss the job, but the job is not the mission, and the mission goes on. I now have a new approach to helping fulfill the mission, and it doesn't involve the job I had for so many years. After all, the job was important, but only as a means to an end.

Since retiring, I have continued to do some ministry. I have preached a few times, celebrated communion now and then, acted as chaplain for various Scout gatherings, led music for VBS, counseled God & Me twice, and am writing a book. I am also active in clergy stuff and denominational leadership. I'm as busy as I want to be or need to be. But it is no longer my job to deal with the constant, pressing work, the 24/7/365-ness of being a pastor. I enjoyed many of the things I did -- they certainly outweighed the things that made me grind my teeth. But there comes a time to move on to other things.

I refuse to get over-excited anymore about the probable breakup of The UMC. The ice is shifting, the glacier is crumbling, and the pent-up waters will soon be released to reshape the landscape. I can neither forestall it nor hurry it up. And I am at peace with myself, so I'll see what's to do once the cataclysm is over. I doubt that I will be called upon to pastor again in whatever new form of Methodism I wind up in, but I may indeed be called to some kind of leadership again to build the future. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I have a house to build and two young boys who need Grandbear to be all things wise and wonderful for them. I am in good health, but at my age all warranties have expired. I am hoping for some adventures yet, but I can't daydream about some distant future. The time to do these things is now, and I dare not encumber myself with responsibilities that would not only drain my energy, but get in the way of what is truly important for me to accomplish.

I remain the Lord's servant -- "but they also serve who only stand and wait."

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Sunday, May 5th, 2019
3:41 pm - By request
It was an exhausting kind of joy to cook for the Cub Scouts and their parents at the 2019 Hoosier Trails Cub-o-ree. We stuffed them with good things. Several folks asked for the recipe for my Tomato-Basil Soup, and at least one asked how, exactly, we made the Grilled Cheese. So now it can be told.


Your basic French soup technique starts with a mirepoix (pronounced MEER PWAH): a mix of onions, celery, and carrots sweated in olive oil or butter. The usual proportions of each are 2:1:1. Then the vegetable the soup is named for is added, with spices and stock. Et voilá: soup.

Tomatoes, however, are very acidic, and I don't like too sharp a taste for tomato soup, so the first thing I do is double the amount of carrots in the recipe. The sweetness of the carrots counteracts the acidity of the tomatoes and mellows the whole thing.

So, to cut my recipe down to something an ordinary family would make,

1) Rough chop 2 large onions, a whole stalk of celery (not just a rib), and a bunch of carrots (at least a pound). Gently sweat veggies in oil (preferably olive) or butter (not margarine). "Sweat" means cook slowly on medium-low heat until the onions turn translucent; if you're browning the onions, you're sautéing, not sweating.

2) Add a No. 10 can of diced tomatoes, fresh ground pepper, a whole freaking bunch of dried basil (about a half to three-quarters of a cup -- be as crazy as you want), and 5 quarts of chicken stock.

3) Simmer until all the veggies are soft. Then either transfer in portions to the blender or (as I do) use a stick blender to puree the soup. It's okay if it's not satiny smooth; I like a kind of thick texture to the soup.

That's all there is to it. It makes an enormous quantity of soup. But then, I invented the recipe to use with large groups, and typically make several gallons at a time. Cut it down as desired, fiddle with it. Just remember: extra carrots, and a massive amount of basil.


You're gonna plotz.

I put two slices of American cheese in each Grilled Cheese sandwich. To use only one means there's too much bread in proportion. But, while using two slices of cheese gives you a great cheese flavor equal to the amount of bread, it also risks giving you the Cheese Funk in the back of the throat. To counteract the Funk, I put a small schmeer of mayonnaise inside the sandwich. Not enough to taste it as mayo, but to add a little tang that counteracts the Cheese Funk. The result is a really bold cheese taste that is also very smooth.

The beautiful exterior was formed in a surprising way. We didn't have time to butter 340 sandwiches -- and we really didn't have time to soften up that much butter -- so we melted the butter by the pound, and then gently spooned it onto the sides of the sandwich to be grilled. Oh, and we used real (unsalted) butter, not margarine.

Slightly stale bread is better than fresh, soft bread for grilling, BTW. I bought 32 loaves at the day-old bread store on Thursday.

Simple, really.

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Tuesday, April 30th, 2019
1:05 am - Defining the audience
I read Deanne some passages from a chapter of the Christian Education book I'm writing. She was confused. She wanted to know for whom I was trying to write the book. She thought it would be a little much for a volunteer Sunday School teacher.

I replied that my target audience is Christian educators. That includes pastors and directors of religious education, who are professionals. I need to tell them things that will warrant their paying attention.

But that also includes a lot of volunteer Christian education chairs, VBS directors, and volunteers with only a general education but some good church experience. So it has to be accessible.

Lots of people want a CE book that is basically a book of recipes: programs, lesson plans, handy-dandy never-failing last minute activities, etc. And I'll have a few of those things. But what we're really lacking in the field of disciple-making is anybody making a CURRICULAR argument: what do we teach? how do we teach it? how do you know what you need to do next?

I think I can offer both professionals and volunteers something they will find helpful. But it will stretch all of them, at least some. If it didn't, they wouldn't need to read my book, and I wouldn't need to write it.

On the other hand, even God needed an editor. But I've got to write the thing before we can edit it.

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Sunday, April 28th, 2019
10:40 pm - A beautiful day in the woods
I don't normally like to miss church, but today was my only window for a dry day at Wilderstead, so I was out the door by 6:00 a.m. heading for the holler. It was cold and clammy, with an overcast sky all morning, but at least the rain held off.

I spent three hours slapping mortar and shooting lasers. The good news is, the piers are finished. the bad news is, one of the piers is really off. Maybe I got the mortar too thick on the lower courses, but if I had added the last course of block, I would be substantially too high (like, an inch and a quarter). I thought about trying to find or make a pair of squat blocks. But I think I'll just make some sections out of 4" x 6" lumber and call them the Mother of All Shims.

All this means we are ready to start contemplating a sill plate, and then . . . beams and joists. It has taken so long to get to this point! I have learned that foundations are time-consuming and crazifying. Of course, foundations are also critically important. But I'm overjoyed that within a definable amount of time, I will start banging nails instead of dealing with mortar and concrete. I mean, I know how to bang nails; I stink at it, but I know how to do it.

CIMG7302 (2)

I promise you that both the pier and the wall are plumb. It's a trick of perspective (and the way the land slopes) that makes them look like drunks leaning in opposite directions.

After cleaning up my tools, I went into Lonceberg and returned some drainage pipe for a refund. The earth-movin' guy told me what to buy, but Orscheln sold me inadequate stuff, so he didn't use it. Of course, I kept my receipt! It was thirty dollars and some, but thirty bucks is thirty bucks and I'm no Diamond Jim Brady, ya know. Grabbed some lunch on my way back to the holler.

The weather finally began to warm up, though the sky remained overcast. It was sort of backlit. I spent the afternoon mowing trails and public areas. After that, I got out my sickle and removed some thorny vines where they were poised to grab people going down said trails. And then it was time to go home.

I'm pooped. But I got everything done that was on my plate today. So, it's on to dealing with Cub-o-ree stuff the rest of this week.

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