English Walnut Harvest

English Walnuts

The harvest is still coming in, but this is most of it. It’s a year of plenty. I think some squirrels have been stealing nuts from the bottom shelf in back, there. I don’t know why. There are still plenty in the grass.

Why Rush is Successful

I’ve already done my voting by mail, and I think every voter should make an informed, conscientious decision according to the principles of his own faith and philosophy. That said, …

I thought I’d offer a quick comment on Rush Limbaugh. He’s hated by many and yet remains number one. Why do so many listen to him? I suppose you’d have to ask each one. Myself, I don’t listen much these days, because it’s pretty inconvenient. However, I get these “Rush in a Hurry” emails that summarize a few of the topics he touches on in his show. Occasionally — very occasionally, I’ve heard him overstate something or go too far beyond his areas of expertise. But most — and it’s almost all — of the time, he has a way of expressing what I’ve been thinking myself. Of course, a good demagogue can make people think that, but I think I’m too stubborn and suspicious by nature to be so easily mesmerized. I may be idealistic in a way too, but not to the point of blindly following a smooth tongue.

Today, Rush included a link to a free audio segment of his show that does an outstanding job of speaking my mind. Maybe it’s the Jonah Goldberg book I read, or the way our current executive branch has been enlarging federal power by leaps and bounds, but something about one of the presidential candidates and his followers just screams “Beware: fascism!” to me. Rush does a pretty good job of articulating that. I suppose if you want to know what I mean by “fascism,” you’ll have to read the book, or maybe listen to the clip.

By the way, there’s another talk show host who’s on at more convenient times for me. (Translation: when I drive places.) His name is Lars Larsen, and his influence seems to be expanding quickly. I enjoy his no-nonsense style, and his usually-fair and deliberate efforts to understand what his callers say.

No, I don’t look for radio shows of a lefterly bent, though there’s a whole liberal station in Portland I’ve sometimes tuned in while driving. The signal to noise ratio on that particular station usually seems lower than I can tolerate, so I vote with my radio dial. Capitalism in action, and a healthy dose of freedom.

The Right Question Answered in Plain Words

An email comment on More Seeds of Discord highlights two challenges we face in achieving genuine agreement on a statement of doctrine.

I agree with your point about asking the right questions. But how to find those right questions?

Also, how to define something that ought to be simple, “What are plain words of Scripture?”

Since I don’t have easy answers to these questions, I’ll pronounce them “good questions.” That’s how it’s usually done, right? But they are good questions, also because they can help us to avoid discord and promote harmony.

How to find the right questions? I think we’d have to take a practical approach to this. We don’t need to go looking for theological questions to answer. Instead, we can address only the questions that arise from the circumstances in which we find ourselves. One of the first things we should do is identify the question being asked, and determine if it’s merely speculative, or what authority is needed to produce a real answer. A question of language usage, for example, can be authoritatively answered by the speakers and writers themselves: “What are the various senses in which we use the term ‘office of the ministry’?” A question of God’s will, on the other hand, can only be answered by holy scripture — if at all: “How does God wish us to regard Baptism?” With some questions, it may be impossible to tell what authority is required. I’d suggest that it may be easier to make headway by first rephrasing or even redefining the question. Only the authority of God’s Word can provide a definitive, unchanging answer, and only questions that can be answered this way require complete agreement among Christians.

The commenter elaborated on the second point:

In this case, I think there are people at both ends of the continuum that claim the higher ground of adhering to the specific words of scripture. On the one hand are those who believe that Christ in specific places instituted a specific Ministry that is entrusted with the preaching of the word and administering of the sacraments.

There are on the other end of the continuum, those who see clearly in Scripture words that seem to indicate or imply or from which can be inferred the clear institution of a wider sense of the ministry.

And so you see, we have a difference in defining something that in English sounds very clear cut, “What does plain mean?”

Here we have suffered from some overlap of meaning. “No kidding,” you say. In this example, we have the term “ministry” (capitalized or not), used in two different senses. In other parts of the whole ELS ministry conversation, we’ve seen the same thing with the term “office” (capitalized or not). If we really want to promote harmony, we will have to agree to some arbitrary language conventions that allow us to avoid this kind of imprecision and the resulting misunderstanding. I think the PMW attempts this rather well, but more can be done. For example, what if we agreed upon the convention of using “office” or “office of the ministry” for only one thing (the current “narrow sense,” for example) while using “ministry” for the other? Artificial and arbitrary? Sure. But helpful, too. We would have to notice that these words were used with less precision (or at least a greater reliance upon context) in years past, and read our fathers’ writings — including the Confessions — with that in mind.

If we could reliably distinguish these two related things that Scripture says have been instituted by God, then we’d see that there are really two categories of questions to be answered, one about “the ministry” and one about the “office of the ministry.” No wonder, then, that each party can claim the higher ground, since they are talking about subtly different questions.

As far as what “plain” means — as in “plain words of Scripture,” my guess is that asking the right kind of questions will help a whole lot. We can expect no plain answer for speculative questions, or those that require only a human authority for their answer. Yet the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture is an article of faith. If we believe that Scripture is clear, then we will either find where it addresses the question plainly, or we will conclude in the end that God has not revealed the answer.

I welcome your further comments.

Synod and Congregation

Ulrik Vilhelm Koren was one of the chief fathers of the Norwegian Synod, now the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. In 1899, he wrote The Right Principles of Church Government, which has been included in the book Faith of our Fathers. There, we read what Koren wrote about the relationship between synod and congregation, found on pages 134-135.

If we hold fast to what we have taught above, from the word of God, about the essence of the Church and the independence of each congregation, it will not be difficult to understand how a body of free congregations must be governed. Such a church body cannot have any government “by divine right.” But that there must be some government follows from the fact that all things shall be done decently and in order, which is what God demands; but the government itself can belong only to the congregations, and it can be carried out only by the men who are sent and empowered by the different congregations for that very purpose. Some of these delegates are pastors and teachers, others not. The division that is often made of the accredited delegates of the congregations into pastors and laymen, as if they represented two different classes in the church, is not correct. A pastor is a member of the congregation just as much as anyone else who belongs to it, and there is no such thing as a special clergy class (as the Catholic Church teaches.) All Christians are priests. Those whom we in ordinary speech call priests (pastors) have only a special office, an especially important ministry to which they are called by God, but they do not constitute a special class.

Now when such an assembly gathered from all the congregations is to search out and carry out what will best serve the interest of the Church, it is clear that this can be accomplished only by conferring together; and that there first of all must be an agreement about the composition of the whole body, about its aims, and about how it will arrange its affairs and carry out its resolutions. This agreement is the constitution of the body. This agreement of constitution must not conflict with the concept of the Church developed above nor with the liberty of each congregation under Christ.

The Synod, then, dare not have any authority over the individual congregation. It cannot impose anything upon it, cannot demand anything of it which God has not demanded, cannot levy taxes upon it. Since the basis on which the union into one body has been built is unity in the faith, the first point in the agreement must be that the individual congregation will not let its confession or its rules conflict with the word of God or Christ’s will. This is not a power that the Synod assumes. It is God’s demand and not men’s, and this demand receives no more authority by the fact that the church body, the Synod, expresses it than if an individual presented it, although the common testimony might be a source of strengthening for one in need of it.

How a Synod Functions

In order to preserve unity in faith and to make progress in Christian life, a body of orthodox congregations will, indeed, find it necessary to establish a special overseer’s office for the pastors and congregations, such as has been the case from the earliest periods in the church. But at the same time the church body must take care to learn, from church history, how necessary it is that the execution of this office does not conflict with the principles given above. The bishops were not elected to rule. The Lutheran Church testifies to this in the Augsburg Confession, in the Apology, and in the Smalcald Articles. We elect these overseers or presidents, as we call them, not to rule but to remind us of our Savior’s rule and His royal word, and, by supervision, admonition, encouragement, and advice to help us use and obey the word of God. They have no other power than that of the word.

[ paragraph re. common goals like schools, “educational institutions, distributions of books, missions, charitable institutions, and everything that can serve the kingdom of God.” ]

Since the Church has been given no other rules with regard to all those things than that all things be done decently and in order, it becomes the task of the church body to leran how all such matters can best be arranged. And since there is no authority established by God to command in such matters, it follows that the church body cannot command or force anything upon the congregation either. Even if a congregation has through its representatives taken part in one or another resolution about such matters, it does not necessarily follow that the congregation must approve the resolution. Love will, indeed, render it necessary for the individual congregation not to reject such resolutions, if they do not conflict with the conscience, but it must be a free matter, since love is free. No compulsory commandment can be given. From the fact that God has set the pastor to be the overseer and guide in the congregation, it follows that a Christian congregation will also in such things want to hear its pastor’s opinion and counsel. But the decision rests with the congregation.

Just for the reason that God has not commanded us anything with regard to the arrangement of all such matters, we must here, as it were, feel our way and try as best we can to learn what will benefit the kingdom of God most, e.g. we must not think that all the regulations in the constitution which we have prepared are so good that they dare not be changed or could not be improved upon. However, it is important here to remember that a passion for novelty must not be allowed to rule; that we do not seek our own but what is to the benefit of all; that we do not consider ourselves wiser than others, so that we will want to force our way through or gain our end by stealth. We should not be blind to the danger that political arts and tricks may be brought over into our consultations and the resolutions of the Church, and then seek comfort in the fact that our end is good, while the means we use are objectionable. The situation is the same in the Synod as in the congregation, — everything would go well, if all weretrue believers; but as there are also nominal Christians and unconverted people in the visible church, many dangers arise. When the evil passions which are not entirely dead even in the children of God get an opportunity to come to life again and to make themselves felt; when suspicion, jealousy, backbiting, opinionatedness, vanity, ambition and lust for power rule more or less; and when restless characters who became angry because they do not get their own way work to sow discontent, suspicion and strife, then the dangers can readily result in distress and misery.

[ Short paragraphs re. the dangers of anarchy and “that worst of all tyrannies, mob rule, where individual demagogues usurp the power, drawing the crowd after them,” and the way to deal with such dangers. ]

So if there is a question of evil or good, of something which God has commanded or forbidden, there we do not ask either about majority or minority, there the conscience is concerned, and there we shall not be the slaves of men whether they be many or few. But where God has not settled the matter, there we shall submit and put up with what the majority agrees on, even if we do not get things as we would wish or as we believed would be to the benefit of the Church. There is one thing in which we shall seek our comfort and strength, and that is the truth that our Lord Jesus governs His Church. He does not need us. He often directs it wonderfully. But if we believe what He Himself has said, that all power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth, and that He is with us always even unto the end of the world, and that He is the king in His kingdom, then we will become confident and hopeful, willing to obey Him and to serve Him according to His word and to “cast all our care upon Him, for He careth for us.” (I Peter 5, 7.)

In light of Koren’s distinction between the things that God’s word demands and other matters, consider this question. It’s more of a thought and discussion question than one that has an easy answer. Yet you are welcome to answer it too, if you wish.

How much of the material addressed by the ELS’ parochial doctrinal statements deals with what God’s word demands, and how much of it deals with human matters? To ask it another way: do all of these short summaries, in all their parts, qualify as something that congregations must accept, or do they also address things that should not be forced upon congregations, “even if a congregation has through its representatives taken part in one or another resolution about such matters?”

And since it’s my blog, I’ll carry it a step further. If you answer that some of these doctrinal statements are indeed fully demanded by God’s Word in all of their parts, must we not also demand unqualified agreement with them as a precondition for any inter-church fellowship? Does that not equate them in status with the Lutheran Confessions, the accepted Lutheran corpus doctrinae? I should look into the way variations between parochial corpora doctrinae were handled during the run-up to the Formula of Concord.

Oak tables and chairs made from wine barrels.

Quartersawn white oak is heirloom-quality furniture material. We’re talking many hundreds of years here, if the furniture is not broken beyond repair. But now consider this: quartersawn white oak with the unique characteristics of wine barrel staves. The staves are curved, of course, but the barrels are also charred inside and stained with years of wine. It’s a look that I’d guess would be hard to duplicate by other means. Another interesting thing is that staves are a bit different from boards. Staves for making primitive-type bows are generally made by splitting the log — at least initially — instead of sawing it. I wonder if the same was true for the raw materials that went into Norwegian stave churches.

I’m not a wine person, though I do enjoy a glass from time to time. And I know there are wine people out there. If you like interesting furniture, and especially if you have a more-than-passing interest in wine, wouldn’t a barrel-stave table and chairs be a fascinating conversation piece, as well as long-lasting furniture? I guess that depends upon the design; whether it retains some of the barrelish character and coloring. Well, if you’d like to see one implementation of this idea, see Barnhouse Products, where Mark Lutz has been making this kind of furniture for several years. I’ve seen some of his pieces in nicely-decorated wine tasting rooms, and they fit rather well.

We’re Baaaaaak.

After much shuffling and learning of hardware, and much software shuffling, and much waiting, the Plucked Chicken is back. The fan I mentioned in the last post, which went up on the very day that my hard drive crashed, has been replaced. That’s the third power supply fan in that box. (Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not worth replacing just the fan. You just have to replace it before the old one quits entirely, leaving the power supply and other components to cook.) The stodgy old hard drives in that box have all been replaced with the somewhat newer ones that were in my desktop machine. They’re so much bigger that I’ll be able to use this as a file server after all.

The new hard drive is a(n) SATA drive. I was delighted that my desktop motherboard has a built-in SATA host, but it turned out to be old enough that it couldn’t communicate with the drive at first. I had to configure the drive (with a jumper that didn’t come with it) to limit its transfer speed. But finally, all was well and we’re up and running.

I also decided that, since I’m starting with a fresh, empty drive, I’d give the AMD64 architecture a try by using that branch of Debian. I’m glad I did. It’s the quickest computer I’ve ever had. As usual when you increase the speed of a machine, the desktop feels instantaneous. I’m even using all the glitzy bells and whistles in KDE, which I’ve never done before. Give it a few years, and it will feel like I’m waiting again, but for now, I like it. The disadvantage is that this install of Debian doesn’t automatically include any support for “legacy” 32-bit programs, and there are a few things that are only made available that way. One appears to be Macromedia Flash. Another seems to be Opera. In time, I hope to use a 32-bit chroot environment to run those things, but for now it’s a small irritation.

It’s my biggest fan

The machine hosting this blog has an AMD K6-3D processor, running at 333 Mhz. It’s in a full tower AT case. If it takes a while to load the blog in your browser, the problem isn’t the slow speed of this machine, but the tiny upload speed of our Internet connection.

By the way, it’s absolutely ridiculous the way Internet access providers artificially and arbitrarily limit the upload speed in relation the the download speed of the link we pay for. I think it begins further upstream than the ISPs that end-users deal with. Whether you realize it or not, the access providers we know also buy access from other companies, and I think outgoing traffic often costs more for them than incoming traffic. Unless, perhaps, your access provider is a company like Embarq. I suppose they own large chunks of the basic Internet infrastructure in the US, and will charge whatever the market will bear.

Imposing artificial limits on the upload speed betrays a certain conception that Internet users are all only consumers of content, not creators and providers of content. It may be a widespread misconception, but it is nevertheless absolutely false. The Internet is really just a huge network of computers, and as such, it should be equally possible and practical for any of the computers on it to receive or send information to any of the other computers. So as it is, the Internet “access” we pay for is a one-sided access. Yes, there is plenty of access to consume information, but only a severely hamstrung access to provide it. That’s why it takes a while for the Plucked Chicken to load across the Internet. End of rant.

Anyway, the machine hosting this blog is old, and the power supply fan has begun moaning and groaning every 5 to 10 minutes or so. It’s a replacement itself, which I salvaged from an old IBM XT case. I was thinking to replace it this morning, but I don’t have any other fans that size. It’s my biggest fan. Since I’m heading to Minneapolis today for the ELS General Pastoral Conference, it will have to wait until I return. We’ll see what happens. I hope it lasts until I return, so I don’t end up with a toasted power supply. There’s life in these old bones yet, and I’d rather keep using them as long as possible.

If the Plucked Chicken becomes unavailable in the next few days, at least you’ll know why.