Once I told someone that when I hear a mediocre sermon I often struggle with the temptation to critique it rather than hear it; left to itself, my mind indulges in a running commentary on how it could be improved. He told me he was surprised, since I struck him as the most credulous person he knew, i.e. the guy whose picture you’ll find next to the definition of the word.

According to the dictionary definition it wasn’t exactly a compliment, but I think he meant it in a more neutral sense, namely that all things being equal I am quite prone to set skepticism aside and give the benefit of the doubt, epecially with people I like or respect. And in that sense he was quite correct; unless I have good reason to not trust someone, I am very unlikely to assume that he is steering me wrong, even if what he is telling me is hard to believe.

Once I got into trouble online for defending someone I thought of as a trustworthy teacher by saying that if he told me pigs could fly, I would believe him. I didn’t bother to qualify the statement by pointing out that I would also be on the lookout for evidence for this, and would stop believing him—and lower my opinion of him greatly—once I found out that pigs in fact can’t fly. But my initial response would be trust, not skepticism.

I used the example of flying pigs because I was thinking about a story told about Thomas Aquinas:

St. Thomas Aquinas was often the object of practical jokes because of his childlike simplicity. His fellow students once told him to come to the window quickly, because a cow was flying in the air. He went at once to the window, looked up, and saw nothing. His guffawing friends asked him, “Come now, Thomas, did you really think that a cow could fly?” He responded, “I would have sooner thought that a cow could fly than that a monk would lie.”

Have I been burned by having such an attitude? Yes, many times. I’ve been told that pigs can fly, and I’ve believed it, and it turned out the fellow had no idea what he was talking about. I’ve been told that pigs can fly, and I’ve believed it, and it turned out that the fellow was deliberately misleading me.

But occasionally I’ve been told that pigs can fly, and I’ve believed it, and it turned out that pigs really can fly—children really are a blessing from the Lord, parents really are capable of training up a child in the knowledge and admontion of the Lord, physical labor really is a good thing, the Lord really will provide, the government really isn’t your friend, simple living really is better living, God really did take on human flesh and live and die on my behalf, and so on.

There are truths that I would never have learned on my own, and would have easily resisted had I listened skeptically to the person trying to tell them to me. There are truths whose truth I only learned by assuming that they were true and trying to live them out. I’m thankful that I gave the people who told me those truths the benefit of the doubt, and went ahead and behaved as if they were true. The benefits have outweighed the pitfalls.

Garden diary

Yesterday morning Chris and I were up early to work in the garden. A little too early, it turns out. We were ready to go by 5:30am, but being on the very edge of the time zone the sun is a bit slower to rise, and it was 6am before we had enough light to work. Then we took the flats of sprouted sweet potatoes, pulled off the sprouts we needed, and headed down to the garden to plant. I punched holes in the plastic, two rows about one foot apart, and then Chris planted the sweet potato slips while I did some general maintenance in the garden. By 7:15am we were back up at the house helping to get breakfast ready.

After breakfast I left to fetch stuff from town. We’re still at the point of making one or two trips a week to Lowe’s and Tractor Supply. I’m hoping that this is because we’re severely underequipped, and that eventually we’ll have enough of the basics to make the trips to town less frequent. This particular day we needed chicken feed, wood shavings for bedding, banjo and guitar capos (I’m resigned to the fact that these periodically go missing), a washing machine hose (i.e. a short hose with female connectors on both ends, to reverse the “polarity” of a garden hose—this is nothing you’ll find in the garden hose department, incidentally), and lots of fans—ceiling fans for the kids’ bedrooms plus some table fans for various other locations.

While I was gone the pile of wood had been delivered. Matthew and Chris and I spent two thirty-minute shifts moving wood to behind the house, getting about 1/4 of the job done, and then deciding that this was work that should be done in the cool of the morning or evening, not the heat of the afternoon. So Chris moved on to installing the ceiling fans, but soon enough we discovered that we simply didn’t understand how the existing wiring worked. After Chris was shocked by a live wire, even after shutting off what we thought were the right breakers, we decided that this was probably a job better done by someone who knew what they were doing. We know the fellow who originally wired the upstairs, so we are trying to get him over to put the fans in for us.

We still haven’t used the air conditioning. We leave the house open until the outside temperature is higher than the inside temperature, then close the windows until evening. With the highs running in the low 90s the past few days, the downstairs temperature inside has stayed around 80 degrees. Where we have fans this seems to be tolerable. Upstairs it gets hotter; that’s mostly a problem for the kids’ daytime naps, and since we don’t have the ceiling fans in yet we don’t know whether that will make things tolerable for them.

This morning I was up at 4am, and over at Jerome’s place by 5am. Jerome makes produce deliveries to Lexington twice a week, and is always looking for someone to drive the produce in so that he can stay and work at the farm. Meanwhile I’ve decided it would be a good thing to have Chris get a bi-weekly lesson from Art Mize, the Lexington fiddler we met at the party last Friday. So I’ve offered to make the delivery every other week (paid work, actually—another tiny income stream). The produce has to leave early so that it will stay cool until it gets there.

When I arrived at 5am, Jerome had already loaded the produce from his cooler into the van. He showed me what Chris and I would have to do, then we got in the van and drove over to Daniel Burkholder’s to pick up some boxes of organic tomatoes—Jerome also delivers stuff produced by the Mennonites, for 20% of the sale price. Then it was a ninety-minute drive to Lexington, windows down to catch the cool morning air. The first stop was at the Good Foods coop, some to the grocery store and some to the cafe kitchen. Then into downtown Lexington to the farmers’ market, where Steve Shepperson was already set up and waiting for his delivery.

Next we drove to Art’s place, which is only a few blocks from the farmers’ market. Art was just finshing up an early morning lesson, so after that was done we sat and visited for a bit, and I arranged for Chris’s lesson. Then it was back home again; with some dawdling, we were back at Jerome’s at 11am and I was home by 11:30. As I drove up to the house, I was quite proud to see how much smaller the pile of wood was—maybe 80% had been moved, and some of it stacked.


Last November we had a wood stove installed that we used to heat the entire house. There was no time to accumulate firewood for ourselves, at least seasoned firewood, so we found a source and had 3 1/2 cords delivered; the wood was good but the price was high.

We’re past the time to be cutting and stacking firewood to season for next winter, and we’re still not ready to do it yet—so much else to do, no time to develop the necessary skills with a chainsaw, no time to track down a good source of wood to cut. So even though we will be doing it as time and opportunity permits, we can’t yet depend on the wood we cut to heat the house for the winter.

Sometime last winter we learned that many of the Amish and Mennonite families around here don’t cut their own firewood, either. In the tiny town of Dunnville, a few miles from us, is one of the largest agricultural gate manufactures in the world, Tarter Gate. They are big enough that they run their own sawmill, and whatever it is they do with the wood they cut, they also produce huge amounts of scrap blocks of wood. You can get a huge truckload of these wood scraps dumped in your driveway for $100. That’s what the Amish and Mennonites do, and so that’s what we decided to do this year.

Here’s the first load, with two boys standing triumphantly at the summit. It’s a really big and unwieldy pile, and the boys have since earned those triumphant looks by moving the pile from the driveway to behind the house. Next they need to stack the blocks under the eaves, which will take awhile. The weather here is very hot and humid right now, into the mid-80s by 10am, so they are doing the work in the early morning before and after breakfast.

We plan to get one more load delivered, and that should be more than enough to see us through the winter. If we are also able to start accumulating firewood by cutting trees, so much the better. I figure that stacked firewood is like money in the bank.

Professional pastors

Matt Colvin makes some good observations about why the modern view of the pastorate as a profession does not work. After citing some shocking statistics concerning the sad state of current-day pastors, he says this:

Is it not clear from these trends that it is the very view of the pastorate as a profession that is at fault? The very system of training and calling pastors in the modern American church does not work. Young men should not be going to seminary to become pastors as their primary means of making a living. A man who has no idea how to take care of himself surely cannot care for others. Young men should not be trying to lead churches at a time when they are trying to figure out how to be husbands and fathers of their young families. Decades spent leading and teaching a family amount to a training ground for ministry that no seminary can replicate. The fruit of such years — like olive plants around a table — also has a tendency to make very clear just which men are qualified to lead God’s church.

Colvin also offers a good quote from Steve Schlissel about the biblical understanding of eldership:

As the message of Christ went from place to place, churches, i.e., synagogues of Christ, were founded. “Right at the outset,” says Eric Werner, “it should be remembered that it was not the Temple but the Synagogue which set the pattern for the divine service of the primitive Christian community. [18] And while “the temple was controlled by the priests, the synagogue was a lay institution…Actual leadership was in the hands of elders.” [19]

Who were these elders? People who had special mystical experiences? People upon whom special powers had been conferred? No. They were “respected heads of the families in the community.” It is clear as day that this was what St. Paul also had in mind when he gave the list of qualifications to be used in determining whether those who sought to be servant-leaders in Christ’s synagogues should be admitted to that office. It was their objective character and competence that was of primary concern, not their subjective sense of calling. “Someone wants to be an overseer? Fine. He must be above reproach, not overbearing, must be a one-woman man, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, sober, peaceful, not a quarreler, not greedy.”

But today, with our sacerdotal view of ministry, so long as a boy is graduated from a seminary and passes what is called an examination, he’s made to preside over a church of Christ! And people argue that such a practice is perfectly Reformed. It is not, because it is not Biblical.

There has to be a better way.

Garden diary

Last Thursday night we got three inches of rain within the space of an hour. Together with the inch we got the night before, that makes … uh … four inches! A goodly amount of the rocks in our driveway washed into the road, and even now on Sunday afternoon the ground squshes when you walk on it.

Now comes the challenge. WIth that rain came much, much hotter weather, reaching up into the mid 90s and very humid. I’m glad that we aren’t running anything near a full-scale farming operation here, because we still have a lot of learning and adapting to do. Last night I went out after supper with the older three kids to cultivate the garden, since the rain had crusted over the ground pretty good. Chris, Maggie, and Matthew broke up the ground around the spreading plants, while I used the wheel hoe to do the bean and pea beds. I also took the chance to hoe the paths between the beds to get the weeds out, something I don’t do nearly as often.

Well, it was after supper but it was still hot and the sun was strong enough, so forty-five minutes of that were enough to exhaust me. The kids managed a little longer than I did, but after an hour we headed back inside. More than ever we’re thinking about how to shift work into the cool of the early morning or late evening.

So far we’ve left the air conditioning off. This is not a matter of piously eschewing technology, but a way of helping our bodies stay adapted to working in the summer heat. I’ve heard tell from more than one source that moving in and out of air conditioning will make it harder for your body to tolerate outside heat. But I don’t how long this experiment will last. The kids’ rooms don’t have ceiling fans installed, and last night they were sweltering; fortunately they all have overhead light fixtures, so tomorrow I’ll be picking up fans and we’ll be installing them. Our bedroom has a fan, and it made things tolerable. The kitchen and dining area has fans, but not the living room, and installing a fan there will be more problematic.

We have another batch of sweet potato slips that need planting, so I may try this cool-of-the-morning thing tomorrow and take Chris with me to plant them before breakfast.

Retirement party

We had a great time playing at the party last night. We must have played for about four hours total, first inside the house and later on the deck in the back. For most of the time Jerome and I alternated picking songs to play. Chris and I are used to keeping up in unfamiliar circumstances, but I was surprised how well the others kept up when the song was my choice. One thing I thought we brought to the group was a steady tempo, perhaps a bit of drive as well. On some of the songs Chris and I have played many, many times it surprised me how good it sounded to have a full band playing them.

The big delight for us was Art, the fiddler. Art turns out to be a very good bluegrass fiddler (his first fiddle hero was Chubby Wise, a very good choice), and a pretty adept old-time fiddler as well. He liked it when we picked Stanley Brothers songs to do, and he especially liked it when Chris picked up the banjo, asking to do a couple of songs that were fiddle-banjo duets.

I asked Art if he would be willing to give Chris some lessons in bluegrass fiddle, and he said he’d be glad to oblige. Art lives in Lexington, ninety minutes away, which is a hurdle. But Jerome has mentioned a number of times that he is glad to pay someone to make his Lexington run for him, so it looks like we’ll try to arrange an every-other-week lesson where we’ll deliver Jerome’s produce and then go see Art for a lesson. If we do this, we’ll have to shift our musical priorities for the year so that Chris can focus on fiddle practice, but since we aren’t playing out much this year we should be able to handle that.