On the Road Again

Nik & Jer have returned, so we’re on the road again. First stop will be Memphis to visit with good friends and former pastor colleague from Sioux City. He pastors a church in Memphis so we’ll worship with them on Sunday. After that we’ll follow the Great River Road north into Iowa. (We’ve already traveled the GRR from Bemidji to Iowa a couple years ago.) More about that later.

Our trip to Mississippi is now complete. Last night we stayed in a Plantation Home built in the 1860s — more about that later. The night before I was finally bit by a fire ant. I know they’re in the yard; I’ve heard horror stories. And if I have to have an up-close-and-personal with Mississippi fauna, I’d prefer a fire ant over a rattle snake or a water moccasin.

I was moving a branch fallen out of a lawn when I felt what I thought was a sticker on my hand. When I looked I saw a little tiny fire ant crawling on my hand. Actually it was probably a baby, given how small it was. Maybe it was more of an ember than a full blown fire ant.

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Dog Trot House with Cedar Shakes

While here in Port Gibson we went out to the Grand Gulf battle site, museum, and historic town that the park service is busy recreating. One of the buildings that is nearing restoration is the Dog Trot house. Dog trot houses have an open central breezeway (which a dog can trot through) with rooms on either side.

If you look behind the ladder, trees are visible on the back side of the house through the "dog trot." Although it is a man and not a dog trotting through it.

In the days before air conditioning it was a common architectural design (and the reason the house is included in the historic town). While we were there they were roofing the house with cedar shakes. Cedar shakes are quite common in our part of the country, mostly on expensive houses, because shakes are significantly more expensive than asphalt shingles. There are exclusive neighborhoods where the neighborhood agreement requires all houses to be roofed with shakes. Up north the roof is made up of a frame, wooden sheeting, a layer of tar paper (or the newer high tech equivalent) and then the shingles or cedar shakes. In the south, where it stays hot in the summer and doesn’t get particularly cold in the winter, the design is different. The cedar shakes are put directly on the roof frame allowing free air flow through the roof out of the attic. The shakes keep the water out while allowing the hot, stale air to escape.

Cedar Shake Roof

The shakes are put directly on the frame allowing air flow

And finally, in the 18th and 19th century in particular, dog trot houses were typically built rather loosely with space between the logs. I’ve seen this before and always thought it was poor construction due to the lack of decent tools. Turns out that’s not the case at all. As it was explained to me, such “cracks” between the logs kept the rain water out but allowed air in (before the days of screens). Between the loosely fitted logs, the cedar shake roof, and the dog trot right through the center, fairly good airflow could be maintained, do to convection currents, even on a still day.

Loosely fitted logs to allow air flow.

Médaille: Now He’s Just Meddling

John Médaille, in a recent Front Porch Republic article, is asking hard questions. Why is it “90% of all economists missed the coming of the current disaster”? He admits everyone makes the occasional mistake.

The problem, however, is that the same 90% of all economists also missed the last crises [sic], and the one before that as well, and before that, and so on. In fact, their record of being able to diagnose and treat economic problems is about zero. And their prescriptions always seem to be counterproductive: the recommendations to limit government always make it grow, their advice on limiting taxation always makes it more, their prescriptions on growing the economy only leads to the illusory growth of bubbles, etc. Put it this way: If your doctor had this same track record of diagnosing and treating disease, you’d be dead by now.

It’s become a commonplace to say that economics is obviously not a real science with the same sort of predictive power of, say, an astronomer, or even a Las Vegas bookie, or even Aunt Mabel’s lumbago when it comes to approaching storms. Criticizing is economics is easy. Answering the question of where it went so terribly wrong and why is a more difficult matter. On that point Médaille has some interesting theories.

The study of economic systems is as old as Aristotle, but this study was always considered to be a branch of ethics, and the proper functioning of any economic system was believed to be dependent upon proper ethical arrangements. Adam Smith, for example, was himself a professor of Moral Theology. Through most of the 19th century, the science was known as political economy. As the name implies, an economic system was always viewed as something embedded within—and dependent upon—particular political and social institutions, and could not be studied apart from them. Further, political systems cannot be viewed apart from ethics. …By the start of the 20th century, the term political economy disappeared from common usage and was replaced by the new “science” of economics, a “science” divorced from the moral world.

In other words, John Médaille is saying the same thing that the church has been saying since before Adam Smith. Pope John Paul II was roundly criticized for making observations such as these throughout his robust tenure as pope. And of course, the relatively new Roman Catholic catechism spends quite a few questions in several different contexts on these very things.

But who listens to JPII? Who reads the Catechism of the RC Church? Who listens to the pastors, priests, or bishops when they talk about economics? But this guy is a college instructor!!! Maybe we’ll pay attention to him.

I’m Not (Necessarily) Accusing Anybody

When we arrived in Port Gibson we were greeted with the following scene. The church in the background is the Presbyterian Church, by the way.

Brenda had a friend, and fellow Presbyterian pastor’s wife, who threatened (privately) to burn down the manse which was rife with problems, so when we saw this we chuckled.

And then we discovered that the current pastor is single …

… Could this be evidence that there are other dissatisfied pastor’s wives out there?

Folks at the church insist that the real manse is down the block

And according to the sign, it’s been the manse for longer than most Presbyterian Churches have been around.

But still, that first picture looks suspiciously like spouse’s revenge to us.

Cola, 7-Up, and other cokes

There’s an old internet discussion (almost pre-internet – I’m talking about EcuNet when it was a dial-up ListServe, before the worldwide web was even functional) about regional names for carbonated beverages. If I remember correctly they are referred to as “soda” in the East and “pop” in the Midwest, and “sodypop” (or “sasparilla”) in Hollywood, or something like that. I grew up in Montana and for me and pretty much everyone I knew, “coke” was the normal generic. (“Soda” was something in the yellow box that went in the refrigerator to keep it fresh and also to put into soda bread.)

Waitress: What will you have to drink?

Diner: What kind of coke do you have?

Waitress: We have Coke™, 7-Up™, orange, and root beer.

Diner: Make it a 7-Up™.

This was also true for jeans, which were properly generified as “levis.” For instance, “Only a sissy would wear Lee™ brand levis.”

As I said, the proper terminology for soda/pop/soft drink/coke was a long-standing debate on EcuNet back in the 80s. After all, one can’t properly debate the hypostatic union nor the single/double procession of the Holy Spirit if one doesn’t know whether s/he is holding a “soda,” a “pop,” or a “soft drink” in one’s hand. I was continually amused that folks in the deep south believed with heart-felt conviction that they were the only people on earth who referred to carbonated beverages in toto as “coke.” I was even accused of being a liar by one particularly zealous southerner when I said that was commonplace in Montana.

Anyway, here we are in Mississippi where coke is coke, whether it’s RC™, Pepsi™, or Coca-Cola™ … or Fanta Orange. It’s good to be home. …

… Well, it’d be like home if they’d just quit putting sugar in their iced tea. Sweet tea is an abomination and putting sugar in tea is as ridiculous as putting a second procession into the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. If God wanted sweet tea he would have made the tea leaves sweet in the first place. But he didn’t. So leave the iced tea alone, folks. And if you don’t like it, go drink a coke, which was made sweet in the first place.

But for a Name

Natural England (an organization in England) recently had a competition to name ten endangered species. (Here are the ten species in pictures from the BBC.) Prior to the competition these species only had Latin names. Evidently it was felt that if the creatures had common names rather than just the Latin terms, it would help in their preservation.

I suppose it’s not a lot different than naming a fetus “Emma,” or “Jacob,” or “William,” or “Chloe.” Or simply giving it the common name “baby” instead of the Latin, “fetus,” for that matter. If we did that, maybe it too would be less endangered.

This Blog Post Began as a Meditation on Psalm 104, but somehow managed to wander far away from its proper place into something rather more silly, which is not unlike this title and the poor bear that prompted these thoughts in the first place.

My brother Marc, who is a faithful reader of the Billings Gazette, ran across this article the other day about grizzly bears moving out of the Rocky Mountains into the plains between Great Falls and Fort Benton, MT. These two bears weren’t causing any problems, but this bear wandering east of Ft. Benton (that’s farther away from the mountains than the first two bears) developed a taste for chicken and had to be killed.

Marc’s comment was, “I thought rattlesnakes and swarms of mosquitoes were bad.” Brenda and I commented on the political nightmare this must be for the National Forest Service and state wildlife agencies.

Then I read this morning’s psalm and found this:

You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
People go out to their work
and to their labor until the evening. (Ps 104:20-23)

Nature, for us folk, is something to be managed. When we think of bears creeping out of the mountains onto the plains where farmers live and bears don’t belong, our minds don’t naturally turn to God. Instead, we wonder what the Fish and Wildlife officer is going to do about it. (And if we live in Ft. Benton, make sure the big rifle is loaded and in the rack in the back of the pickup cab.)

I’m pretty sure the farm family who sacrificed their hens (and no doubt their hen house along with it, although that wasn’t mentioned in the article) didn’t think in terms of the bear getting its food (ie, the hens) from God.

This morning as I read this text, it strikes me that when nature takes its course, we no longer “naturally” think of God (unless it’s to blame God for some “act of nature”). Our managed lives don’t lend themselves to considering God. I don’t get my food from God, I get it from the Piggly Wiggly. (I’ve been looking for an opportunity to throw that in to a blog post since I arrived in Port Gibson.) It’s hard to include God in the equation when our food is divorced from the land and comes shrink wrapped off the shelf in the store cooler.

Could it be that the bear in Loma, Montana suffers from the same distorted perspective we humans do? “Let’s see, do I want to wait for God to provide my food tonight, or will I go into this building and get these chickens off the shelf?” After some brief ursine moral reflection, and possibly even an ursine prayer of blessing and thanksgiving, with nary a thought about the divine order of things, the bear decided that he’d prefer chicken off the shelf.

Well, I need to close the blog post and go to the Piggly Wiggly to get some hamburger “off the shelf” for lunch. Hopefully the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife folk won’t have the same opinion of me as their Montana counterparts had of the bear.

Psalm 90, Adam, and the Wrath of God

I’ve been catching up on my reading while I’m in Mississippi. As often happens, reading theology leads me to write.

In this case, during my devotions I noticed a striking connection between Psalm 90 and the story of God expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

At the same time I was reading Brian Gerrish’s Grace and Gratitude, where he mentioned in passing some things John Calvin had said about the wrath of God.

Everyday we eat lunch at the cafeteria in the military school where my brother-in-law teaches. We arrived in Mississippi before the boys attending summer term left. It was obvious not all were filled with bliss and gratitude for the opportunity to get their high school education at a military school.

… “Double, double, toil, and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.” …

So where does this “witches brew” of ideas and circumstances bring us? To a theology paper! (Of course!!) A proper paper doesn’t lend itself to html, so I wrote up a proper paper and put it in the archives as a pdf file. You can find it here.

The Family Jewels

Back on this post I erroneously claimed that I had given two items, currently on my sister’s desk (and one underneath), to my mother as Christmas presents. I assumed that my sister had rescued them from a trip to the Goodwill store or some worse fate when we moved dad out of his apartment.

If you read the comments attached to that post you know that this wasn’t the case at all. The pencil holder and bench were actually gifts I gave my sister when I was in junior high.

I also mentioned a seagull that I had given mom. Nik suggested I ask dad where it came from. (I have no idea why that didn’t occur to me. He’s sitting across the hall as I type this.) According to him, I did manage to get that one right. I bought it in Alaska when I was in college and spent a summer in  Palmer. Mom was getting tired of too many duck decoys, so I bought the seagulls instead.

In the original post I said something disparaging about the birds, calling them a bit kitschy. That might have been unfair. Even though they aren’t high art, they manage to reproduce exactly what seagulls do when they’re hanging around a pier. Both dad and I agree the poses are very realistic. You can decide for yourself because I’ve included a picture below.

The family jewels

In defense of my assumption that I made the pen holder for mom, I probably did make one for mom. As you can see from the photo, while practical, it’s a very easy project for a Junior Higher to make and I probably made five or six of them — who knows, maybe a dozen — that first semester in wood shop. I know I had one on my desk for years. Dad said mom had one and he may have had one too, and of course I gave the one pictured above to my sister as well. For all I know, the pen holders were probably like zucchini in July … the sort of thing you stick into the back seat of cars at church if people are foolish enough to leave their doors unlocked.

And one final question: Are memories like sounds in a forest? Are my other childhood memories still false just because I haven’t told anybody what they are?

aah, I’ll leave that question for the philosophers.