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June 2016

Pride Parade

This morning Sebastian participated in his first Pride Parade (last year he was so little and it was so very hot).  Our family walked with First Central.  Here are some photos.

Our toddlers from church. Sebastian wishing everyone a Happy Pride.  And Michael and Sebastian in front of our decorated church bus.

2016 Pride Church Toddlers
2016 Pride Church Toddlers
2016 Pride Church Toddlers

"All humankind is the body of Christ"

Bulgakov writes that the Church is creation's "inner entelechy."  Interesting.

He rejects the traditional understanding's of apostolic succession as made up, but understands why the idea developed in the early church around the Eucharist.  

Why limit the sacraments to seven? he wonders.

The Roman idea of a vicar of Christ on earth is "an obviously unsuitable conception."

He pointed out that some of the sacraments, like baptism, don't occur simply in the moment but "take place over an entire lifetime."

He agrees with Pelagius on some points, for example "To recognize that human beings, even after the fall, are capable of moving freely toward grace, or of doing the natural good, represents a positive contribution to Christian anthropology."  But he thinks Pelagius and Augustine were both one-sided and that the Western Church took a wrong turn by drawing too close to Augustine.  I agree.

Bulgakov writes, "All humankind is the body of Christ" this because "Christ's Incarnation and the Pentecost are universal."  He continues, "The Church does not judge those on the outside but keeps silent about them, leaving them to God's mercy."  And "We must say that, ontologically, these boundaries do not exist at all.  To admit them would be to limit and diminish the power of the Incarnation and of the Redemption."

The Gem

Despite my disappointment in the Saunders County Historical Museum they possessed one gem which fascinated me--a parka.

The parka was owned by Fred Hirsch from Yutan.  He served in the Spanish-American War and this was his military parka.  But Fred did something interesting with his parka--he drew pictures on it.  Pictures of what he saw in old Havana.  A fascinating piece of folk art.  Here are some photos.



Poor Signal

Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.

The words of Tennyson popped into my head today as I pondered the Confederate flag I saw flying in the village of Ithaca, Nebraska. I'm always puzzled by Confederate flags in states which fought to save the Union. No question that the person flying such a flag intends to be offensively, in-your-face a white supremacist, right? Part of me would be curious to interview such a person and ask them about their choices. But I don't think I have the temperament for it.

I thought of Tennyson because the poem is from Ulysses about the aged hero who was King of Ithaca. Surely the person flying this flag was violating something essential about the character of a town that would name itself Ithaca. Ithacans should not be afraid of a new world, right?

But, there are these great lines also from the close of the poem that maybe register something of the rebel impulse?

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Ithaca (Nebraska that is) clearly has seen better times. There isn't even a railroad track where it appears one once was. It's even a mile off the minor state highway that runs by it.

Earlier in the afternoon I had been driving west on Highway 92 and there were a number of small anti-abortion billboards in pastures along the roadway. These dot the heartland, of course. They've always puzzled me. That person I'd definitely like to interview, not on their views of abortion, but why they erect such a sign and have they ever considered that such signs might be emotionally harmful to people? That such signs strike me as unkind and uncompassionate. How would they react to hearing that from someone?

One of the times I was stopped today in a line of cars at a construction zone an apparatus used for center pivot irrigation was pointed toward me in such a way that it appeared momentarily like the skeletal remains of a prehistoric lizard.

I was getting a poor cell phone signal most of the day. After having gotten the airbag recall finally taken care of on the Corolla and done some shopping, I decided for an afternoon jaunt to Saunders County west of Omaha. The landscape could be in a Cather novel or the Nebraska locations Stephen King uses.

I wasn't quite west enough for the landscapes in Ted Kooser's poetry, but I was in an area of German, Swedish, and Czech settlement. Wahoo has a very large Catholic Church and a tiny, aged Congregational Church.

I'd never been to Wahoo. Like many smaller Nebraska towns it surprises you with how well it is doing. Surprises because coming from Oklahoma many smaller towns show little signs of economic activity. Those do exist here, though. Ithaca, being a prime example.


Wahoo, however, has a grand and gorgeous county courthouse—as many counties in the Plains do. Well-appointed and well-maintained Victorian homes lined the streets near the busy business district where the banks were still in buildings that look like banks. I was surprised by a vast area of large, ugly, and new suburban style developments south of town. Despite their ugliness, a sign of some economic activity.

The Saunders County Historical Museum was a disappointment. I have a weird fascination with county and small town historical museums. I particularly recommend the Lincoln County Historical Museum in North Platte, Nebraska, the Old Greer County Museum and Hall of Fame in Mangum, Oklahoma, and the National Route 66 and Old Town Museum complex in Elk City, Oklahoma. The latter, in its agricultural and blacksmith display has an excellent exhibit on wrenches. Michael uses this statement often to make fun of me. It is not that I have an abiding fascination with wrenches. I was unaware until seeing that exhibit that I could enjoy them.

Most such museums have a series of outbuildings—a one room school house, a settler's cabin, an old church. The ones in Saunders County were padlocked, making for a rather disappointing museum.

All such museums are also works of love and civic pride by mostly elderly people. The time, care, and affection are evident. Saunders County does have some notable hometown kids to highlight—Oscar-winning producer Daryl Zanuck, Nobel-prize winning geneticist George Beadle, Hall of Fame baseball player Sam Crawford, and Pulitzer-prize winning composer Howard Hanson. A Zanuck Oscar is even on display.

I was surprised that there was no David Letterman Home Office display.

What did not disappoint was lunch at the Wigwam Café. I had to order the unique "Grilled Cheeseburger Stacker" described on the menu as "1/3 pound burger sandwiched between two creamy grilled cheese sandwiches." I also couldn't resist a piece of the beautiful looking and quite delicious tasting banana cream pie.

In 2004 after the disastrous election—disastrous for the country and for LGBT people—I decided to drive to Oklahoma City from Dallas for Thanksgiving on the highway going through small towns instead of on the interstate. I did so because I was puzzled by my own people who had shocked me by their votes. I grew up a small town Oklahoma boy (I joke with Michael, quoting Marie Osmond, "I'm a little bit country"). I had even been a Republican for quite a while, so I didn't understand how I could see the world so differently than my own people did. And I was puzzled where the kindness, the fairness, the basic decency valued by those people had gone.

Unfortunately I had no major epiphanies on that drive. I did, however, see the decline of those small towns and wondered if they were struggling to hold fast to a world that no longer existed instead of embracing the new.

Something similar appeared to be happening on my drive today through Saunders County. Something similar seems to have happened in England yesterday.

As I drove west on Highway 92 this morning into a rich rural landscape dotted with anti-abortion signs and center pivot irrigation apparatus, I was listening to NPR and an interview with Don DeLillo speaking on the City Arts and Lectures noon forum from the Commonwealth Club of California. He had been introduced as a novelist who captures the paranoia of contemporary life.

Reading White Noise in Joe Hall's freshman English class at Oklahoma Baptist University had, in some way, awakened me from my dogmatic slumber and introduced me to postmodernism. Maybe something happened to me in 1992 to make me different, make me more likely to follow the call of the mythical Ithacan king.

Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.

For today, as in 2004, I had lost my connection.

Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich?

[Installment three of my philosophical ideas series Making Sense, picking up where we left off in post number two, "Murder Most Foul."]

                 What’s wrong with that answer is that it is merely an example.  Euthyphro has given an example of what piety is but not an actual definition of piety.

                Why does Socrates want a definition?  In many of the dialogues of Plato, Socrates and his conversation partners (usually called “interlocutors”) engage in conversations very like this one.  They try to give accurate definitions of courage, temperance, justice, etc.  One of the best dialogues is Symposium in which Socrates and a number of other prominent Athenians get drunk at a dinner party and discuss love.  I highly recommend the book.

                Plato believed that knowledge is true belief of which we can give an account.  This basic three part characterization of knowledge—that it is a belief, that it is true, and that we can justify it in some way—has been the lasting characterization since Plato’s time.  Socrates had a very specific view of what kind of account to give—a definition.  A definition should be able to tell you what is and is not included in a concept.

                At this point in my classes I pull out my water bottle and ask the class to give a definition of water bottles.  Someone usually begins with “Something that carries water you can drink.”  I ask if anyone can think of something not a water bottle that fits that definition.  Buckets, jugs, etc. get mentioned.  Usually coming to a definition is a little work, with a lot of back and forth, emulating the Socratic Method of questions and answers.  And this for something as simple as a water bottle.

                Lately on the internet there has been discuss of whether a hot dog is a sandwich or not.  The point has been made that if a meatball sandwich is a sandwich, then a hot dog should be as well.  Yes, a hot dog does seem to fit most definitions of a sandwich—some food held between bread—but I can’t get over the idea that a hot dog simply does not fit the way I usually use the word sandwich.

                Why do we care?  Well, maybe we don’t care about the proper classification of a hot dog but we do care about our beliefs. Linda Zagzebski, a philosopher at the University of Oklahoma, wrote in her book Epistemology, “If we care about anything, we must care about the right way to believe. Caring about anything commits us to believing and disbelieving as we should.”  We care about knowledge because we care about other things—like our family, our pets, living well, driving to work safely, eating stuff that isn’t dangerous, not sounding like an idiot, etc.  We care about things, so we desire knowledge. 

                And, as we saw in the introduction, we also want to make sense of the world.  We want to believe what is good and true and what will help us to live a meaningful life.

                Socrates believes that someone with knowledge of a concept ought to be able to give an accurate definition of the concept. Is Socrates right?  Can we give accurate definitions of abstract ideas like love and justice and courage?   Most people think we can’t.  Most people who read Plato’s dialogues about Socrates come to decide that being able to give an accurate definition is too stringent a requirement for justifying knowledge.  Euthyphro’s difficulties in answering Socrates’ questions are revealing.

                So, let’s hang for a while with this conversation Socrates and Euthyphro are having about piety and see where it heads.

Evaluating Presidents

A couple of weeks ago while I was driving around northeast Nebraska, I entertained myself by considering recent presidents and their major accomplishments and failures.  Yeah, I do stuff like that for fun.  Here are the conclusions I drew.


Reagan's greatest accomplishment was putting in place the policies that precipitated the elevation of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and ultimately helped to lead to the end of the Eastern Bloc.  Also noteworthy were his disarmament deals, as Reagan did believe in a nuclear weapons free world (Thatcher thought Reagan was naive on this point).

Reagan's greatest failure was the massive growth of the debt during his presidency, when he had in fact run as someone who would reign in the deficit.

George H. W. Bush

Bush greatest accomplishment was his successful navigation of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, and the empowerment of the United Nations in dealing with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

He failed to predict how his involvement in the Middle East would precipitate al Qaeda.  Also, I believe the L. A. Riots revealed a lack of addressing urban poverty and racial injustice by his and the previous administration.


I think his biggest accomplishment was the bailout of Mexico and overall how his economic team handled a series of global economic crises in the late 90's.

His biggest failure was either 1) Not reforming entitlements, despite running both times on that idea and then never offering a reform plan (he squandered an opportunity for real reform) or 2) Policies that ultimately led to the housing and financial market collapses of 2007-8 (though others contributed to that as well).

George W. Bush

His biggest accomplishment was his initiative to address HIV/AIDS and malaria in Africa.  Either that or his agreement with India which may pay off in the long term.

His biggest failure, I believe, was the opportunity that he squandered.  After 9/11/2001 there was unparalleled national and global unity which a great president could have muster in order to achieve great things (such as steps toward the Millennium Development Goals).  Instead, he made horribly bad decisions that squandered unity and goodwill, utterly divided the nation, and generated further violence globally.  Probably the greatest missed opportunity in American history.


I believe his greatest accomplishment will have been broadening the core American narrative.  He has done this by being himself but also in his rhetoric (the examples he uses, the stories he tells, the names he mentions--did previous presidents talk about Fanny Lou Hamer?) and in the cultural choices he and Michelle have promoted.  We helped to create a model for America's more pluralistic, multicultural future.

And his greatest failure was not recognizing that when he had control of Congress with a filibuster-proof Senate that he should have achieved as much of his agenda as he could.  He frittered away almost a year futilely trying to negotiate on health care.

God and Creaturely Freedom

At the beginning of my sabbatical a former congregant, who was a child in a church I was youth minister, called to talk philosophical topics, particularly the issue of God and human freedom.  Chapter 4 of Sergei Bulgakov's The Bride of the Lamb is on the same topic, and I rejoiced to discover similarities with Alfred North Whitehead, such as:

He acts without coercing; that is, He persuades, limiting His power to the measure of creaturely receptivity.

Or this:

Creaturely freedom . . .  encounters divine suggestions which graciously flow into it.

And this:

Creatures cannot receive their being in a purely passive manner.  They are endowed with free activity and are individually qualified in the reception of their being.


As noted in a previous post, Bulgakov completely rejected the notion of God as cause of the world, insisting that Creator is a different, better, and more accurate description.  In this chapter he thoroughly eviscerates the Western theological tradition rooted in Augustine and Aquinas for their failures in this regard.  He believes the adoption of a causal model eliminates human freedom and creates a causal monism which is a "monstrous misunderstanding, a theological temptation" and a "theological masquerade" in that the tradition generally proclaimed only predestination for the elect and tried to explain away predestination of the damned.  He credits Calvinism with being consistent and triumphing dogmatically over the Roman tradition (which persists in the masquerade) but of Calvinism he writes, "Philosophical abstraction is combined here with religious fanaticism."

Bulgakov writes, "The official doctrine of the Catholic church . . . is only a fig leaf covering the nakedness of a systematic determinism, which, when one accepts its initial premise of human passivity and impotence (referred to as the bondage of the will), leads with inexorable logic to the recognition of both types of predestination."

The Orthodox Church, because rooted in the Patristics who never developed this problem, has largely avoided it.  The deification model of the atonement has always rested on the potential goodness of humanity, not its depravity.  Indeed that model has argued that even if there had never been a Fall, that still God would have been incarnated as part of the creation as the step for humanity to be deified.  

He writes, "This absorption of grace gives to man the divine power to become not other than himself but precisely himself in his eternal aspect, since it is incumbent upon man to become a god-man in Christ's Divine-humanity by the power of the Holy Spirit, a son of God and a son of man by the will of the Father in Heaven."

Note:  I am selecting out from a dense and complicated chapter those elements that resonated with me.

Suburbs of the mind

Read some enjoyable lines in Wordsworth's Prelude today:

The matter that detains us now may seem,
To many, neither dignified enough
Nor arduous, yet will not be scorned by them,
Who, looking inward, have observed the ties
That bind the perishable hours of life
Each to the other, and the curious props
By which the world of memory and thought
Exists and is sustained.  More lofty themes,
Such as at least do wear a prouder face,
Solicit our regard; but when I think
Of these, I feel the imaginative power
Languish within me; even then it slept,
When, pressed by tragic sufferings, the heart
Was more than full; amid my sobs and tears
It slept, even in the pregnant season of youth.
For though I was most passionately moved
And yielded to all changes of the scene
With an obsequious promptness, yet the storm
passed not beyond the suburbs of the mind . . . 

The Pivot

After our 13 mile hike along the Eagle Creek Trail, we returned to Hood River for flights of beer and burgers at pFriem.  I was very excited by the note in the men's bathroom above the changing table.  This hospitality is lacking in so many places which don't even have changing tables in the men's rooms.  


Across the street was Waterfront Park and a creative, unusual playground area with grassy berms, climbing walls, giant wooden xylophones, and more. I missed Sebastian in the moment.  Clearly my mind was pivoting to my return home.

The lake was filled with paragliders, their colourful chutes floating across the crisp blue skies.


We meandered along the waterfront and I took my shoes off in order to enjoy the grass on bare feet--making sure to avoid the goose shit.

Friday we slept in, ate breakfast in Parkland at a place decorated with reggae and NASCAR memorabilia and a poster from The Crow.  The coffee was very bad.  

We cleaned up the cabin and departed, deciding to drive up and over the mountain instead of down the gorge.  We arrived at McMenamins, where Dan had brought me three years before, for lunch and to kill time drinking beer and playing shuffleboard.  The place was filling up with evening concert goers, but we enjoyed the activity and browsed the shops, including watching the glass blower.

Dan dropped me at the airport early so he could get home to his wife.  He had to leave town again the next day for a church conference.

As I've typed this probable last post on my Oregon hiking journey, I've been listening to Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, always a great accompaniment to the landscapes of the American West.

Lunching with Chipmunks


For our final day of hiking Dan recommended Eagle Creek.  "It's a great waterfall hike."  Plus it afforded nice stops and opportunities to decide if we would press on.

We began early in order to beat the rush on a nice day.  We took the first two miles leisurely, often pausing to take pictures and to enjoy the scenery.  When we made the return trip I had forgotten how much was contained within this first phase of the hike.

With clear sunny skies predicted, we didn't pack our rain gear.  Which means it rained on us a couple of times that day.


At two miles were Punchbowl Falls.  Shortly after those falls a bridge was down, but most folk wanting to go higher just forded the stream.  

A little more than a mile past Punchbowl you reach another waterfall at the end of a long crevase.  This is the best view of the fault that originally formed the valley.  The water at the bottom of the crevase is very clear and moving gently (though quickly).  But the entrance to the slit is a loud and beautiful rapids.  Fortunately this splendid spot is traversed by High Bridge.  Dan and I chose to lunch there.




Shortly after we stopped, two chipmunks ran across the bridge behind us.  We threw them some bread which they nibbled a few feet away from us.  As we lunched, they stayed with us, coming inches from us at times.  A few things, like some peanuts, they crammed into their cheeks and ran off into the brush, maybe to store for later?  The moment felt like a genuine friendly communion with two animals.  "Companions," Dan said, referring to the literal--those with whom you share bread.

Taking in the glory of the view I told Dan that my funeral plan is for people to receive ashes to spread someplace that is significant to their relationship with me.  I told him this spot was where he would have to deposit his share of my ashes.


The trail had been fun, but not rough.  At times we held the hand railings on the narrow, rocky cliffsides, and we had been rained on, but we weren't tired and the time was still early, so we elected to continue another three miles to Tunnel Falls.  We made one more long stop on our ascent of the valley, sitting beside the creek casting rocks into the stream.  I stood momentarily in the cold water to refresh my feet.

The final 40 minutes or so of the ascent we weren't taking time to look about as much, determined to reach our endpoint.  And Tunnel Falls did not disappoint.  A thundering tall falls with a tunnel carved behind.  Standing on the slick rocks as the spray rush passed you loudly felt dangerous and joyfully exhilarating.  We whooped and hollered and took many pictures and videos.



A brief rest and we started our return cutting our time in half on the first half back.  The chipmunks were still at High Bridge, now eating with a different group of hikers.  We also saw four other Nebraskans on the trail.


The final two miles after Punchbowl felt much longer than they had in the morning, and when we reached the end, we took our boots off and let our tired feet soak a little in the stream.  We had hiked almost thirteen miles and around 1100 feet in elevation and back.  Even though we saw many hikers much older than we are, the day made us feel younger than our age.

However, the tiredness and soreness the next day and the days after reminded me, I am really 42.