Ten things about Baptists

In my novel The Secret Side of Jaya, she learns a lot about Baptists while living in the Ozarks.

For starters, within their shared identity, they come in all varieties of theological nuance and group practice – and the lines within them can be drawn sharply. And they don’t handle snakes as part of their worship.

Here are a few facts:

  1. Baptism is reserved for believing “born again” adults and is usually by water immersion only. Jesus is accepted as Lord and Savior.
  2. Church authority, with few exceptions, is placed in the local congregation, which can voluntarily affiliate with other like-minded fellowships. Beliefs can vary by congregation, historically along Calvinist versus Arminian lines. Far more than I want to get into here, other than say I’m in the Arminian camp.
  3. The major affiliations in the U.S. are the Southern Baptist Convention, American Baptist Association, National Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention of America, American Baptist Churches USA, and Baptist Bible Fellowship International. Far from the only ones.
  4. There are also Independent Baptist churches that refuse to affiliate with others.
  5. Faith is a matter between God and the individual. Thus, absolute liberty of conscience is essential.
  6. The Bible is asserted as the only norm of faith and practice. So start flipping pages.
  7. Baptist membership is roughly 100 million worldwide – half of them in the USA, where they constitute a third of American Protestants, especially in the South.
  8. They make up more than 40 percent of the population in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.
  9. Forty-five percent of African-Americans identify themselves as Baptists.
  10. The Lord’s Supper, or communion, is considered symbolic and not necessary for salvation. There is no set calendar for its observance.


Does this make their identity any clearer? We haven’t even touched on some of the key theological language.


Some facts about the Brethren

The Brethren resemble Mennonites in many ways, including their belief that baptism is for believing adults only, but they have their differences, beginning with the way they baptize. They traditionally do it by trine immersion, and historically that often happened in the dead of winter, once they broke the ice in the stream. Seriously.

Much of my ancestry on my dad’s side were Brethren, as I explain on my Orphan George blog.

Here’s a brief introduction to the faith.

  1. Alexander Mack (1679-1735) was the leader and first minister of a Pietist community that broke with the three state churches in Germany in 1708. Persecution sent them fleeing to the Netherlands and then, beginning in 1719, to Pennsylvania. Mack arrived with about 30 families ten years later, essentially completing the migration to the New World.
  2. They often resembled the Amish – and some still do – including the German-speaking identity. Like the Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers, they have upheld a peace testimony that rejects participation in war.
  3. They also led lives modeled on simplicity and a non-creedal belief, “No creed but the New Testament.”
  4. They were active on the American frontier and grew in numbers.
  5. There has often been an identity problem. They were often called Dunkards or Dunkers, for their mode of baptism, which some found offensive, or German Baptist Brethren – but please don’t confuse them with the Baptists or the United Brethren in Christ, which I was raised in, or the Brethren in Christ, an offshoot of the Mennonites. Or the Plymouth Brethren in Garrison Keillor’s past, who broke off from the Anglicans.
  6. Tensions between conservatives and progressives led in the 1880s to a separation that split off the Old German Baptist Brethren, on one side, and the Brethren Church, on the other, from the central body, now known as the Church of the Brethren.
  7. The Heifer Project began as a Brethren peace and social justice initiative in the 1950s.
  8. Denominational polity is through Annual Conference.
  9. The annual love feast includes foot washing.
  10. What others call sacraments the Brethren call ordinances. Among them are the laying on of hands and anointing for healing or for consecrating an individual for service.

Ten American gold rushes

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state. And yes, the state still has gold miners and prospectors.

Here are some significant gold rushes in U.S. history.

  1. Cabarrus County, North Carolina, 1799
  2. Sierra Nevada, California, 1848-55
  3. Colville, Washington, 1855
  4. Pikes Peak, Colorado, 1859
  5. Clearwater, Idaho, 1860
  6. Montana, 1862-69
  7. Black Hills, South Dakota and Wyoming, 1874-78
  8. Cripple Creek, Colorado, 1891
  9. Mount Baker, Washington, 1897-1920s
  10. Nome, Alaska, 1899-1909


British Columbia could have a Tendrils list of its own. And my family had a mine of its own in Guilford County, North Carolina, in the first half of the 1800s.

Passing the plate 89

If it’s for River Sing, I’m reminded of our annual big autumn equinox concert on the banks of the Charles down in Boston. If it’s River Song, I’m reminded of a Bill Staine’s waltz or a piece composed by the director of the Quoddy Voices. Don’t know what to do with River Sang or River Sung, though. Or River Snug.

Meet the Mennonites

The early Quaker movement was heavily influenced by Mennonites via the early General Baptists in England. It’s a complicated story, but today Quakers and Mennonites still share some deep bonds, especially in the witness for peace. And yes, they’re both important in Pennsylvania. In fact, the first Mennonite congregation in America was a joint venture with Quakers in Germantown, then outside Philadelphia.

Here’s some background.

  1. Mennonites are oldest body of the Anabaptist movement, which rejected infant baptism, insisting instead the sacrament was only for believing adults.
  2. The denomination is named after Menno Simons (1492-1561), a priest who left the Roman Catholic church in the Netherlands and was persecuted as a heretic.
  3. Its followers have been heavily persecuted, especially in the early years in Switzerland and Germany. Many were burned at the stake.
  4. It identifies with an underground church going back to Waldo and the Waldensians.
  5. They are strong proponents of peace, refusing to participate in military service or to fight in self-defense.
  6. The Amish split from the Mennonites in 1693. Today some conservative Mennonites resemble the Amish, while others are urban professionals – most fall somewhere between in lifestyles.
  7. They are known for their four-part a cappella hymn singing, although that’s changing with the youngest generation. Lay ministry and mutual discipleship are common.
  8. Communion is celebrated as an annual love feast. Any lingering conflicts among the members of the congregation must be reconciled first.
  9. It’s no longer primarily German-speaking or German descendants, a consequence of active mission work and growth worldwide.
  10. Anabaptism is seen as the third stream of Protestantism – the others stemming for John Calvin and Martin Luther. Unlike them, it never accepted state sponsorship or endorsement.

Ten historical figures who inspire me

Let’s skip past Jesus and Lincoln and King David and Gandhi, Martin Luther King, etc. Go to more regular folks who also had everyday lives.

  1. Charles Ives, 1874-1954, classical composer and Manhattan insurance executive, an “American original” in both fields. Or even a maverick. Seriously overlooked when it comes to performances and airings.
  2. Charles Kettering, 1876-1958, American inventor. Second only to Edison in the number of patents.
  3. Arthur Morgan, 1878-1975, a civil engineer Kettering encouraged on a life of notable public service in flood control and higher education.
  4. Abigail Adams, 1707-1783, first wife in the second presidency and equal to any of the First Fathers. She really knew how to write a letter.
  5. Jenny Thompson, 1973-present, big-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer. Despite serious setbacks, including biased judging against her, she was persistent. Better still, she claims Dover as her hometown and works as a pediatrician up the coast in Maine. How can I not think of her every time I swim in the big outdoor pool carrying her name?
  6. J.S. Bach, 1685-1750, as an example of daily practice and faith.
  7. John Woolman, 1720-1772, Quaker minister who confronted economic and racial injustice. Many of his critical insights regarding wealth and oppression fit today, too.
  8. Emelia Bassano Lanier, 1569-1645, apparently the real author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. I’m buying the argument. The works now take on a fresh vitality.
  9. Elizabeth Hooten, 1600-1672, the real mother of the Quaker movement and first woman preacher, quite outspoken, no sleight intended for Margaret Fell. She even came to Dover in 1662 and was severely treated by Massachusetts authorities, despite a letter from King Charles II. I wish we had more from her on the record.
  10. The Theotokos, mother of Jesus, in Eastern Orthodox theology envisioned as something much more than a Virgin Mary. Literally, “the God-bearer.” I mean, she’s addressed as the Mother of God! The implications – and personal interior experience – are mind-boggling for anyone seeking a feminine experience of Judeo-Christian thought, especially when we get back to the everyday life part.


Well, this list has changed over my life!

Who would you name?

Major North American rodeos

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state, a place that has some fine rodeos, like the one at Ellensburg, up the canyon, or out in White Swan on the reservation.

This list started out to be the biggest ones, but I’m finding even that can be tricky, depending on the varying measures. And then there are the Best Lists, which laud smaller events like the Reno Rodeo in Nevada and the Pendleton Roundup in eastern Oregon.

So here’s a list anyway. Giddyup!

  1. Cheyenne Frontier Days, Wyoming
  2. Calgary Stampede, Alberta, Canada
  3. National Western Stock Show, Denver
  4. Ponoka Stampede, Alberta, Canada
  5. Fort Worth Stock Show, Texas
  6. La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, Tucson, Arizona
  7. Williams Lake Stampede, British Columbia, Canada
  8. Festival Western de St. Tite, Quebec, Canada
  9. World’s Oldest Rodeo, Prescott, Arizona
  10. Parker Ranch Fourth of July Rodeo, Hawaii. Oops, not North America but still in the USA.


Ever been to a real rodeo?

Yes, I enjoy Midcoast Maine

The coastal loop of Maine north of Portland but before Acadia National Park can easily be overlooked by many tourists who stick to Interstate 95. Besides, U.S. 1, its principal route, turns into a traffic jam during the summer, which is why we go in the shoulder seasons.

Many of its delights are found along the side roads that reach down its fingers to the sea or inland in the other direction.

Here are a few of the things we enjoy.

  1. The lighthouses, of course. Pemaquid Point at Bristol is a photographer’s favorite, but there are 20 more. Some are privately owned, and many – including the 11 on islands – are viewed best from the water.
  2. Ferry rides are one way to get to the islands and a fun trip in their own right. The state runs vessels from Rockport, Bass Harbor, and Lincolnville, and private services add New Harbor and Port Clyde to the points of departure.
  3. Getting to Morse’s sauerkraut in Waldoboro, leading away from the water, can seem like forever, especially in winter, but when we go, we stock up. This cabbage is nothing like the crap we were force-fed as kids, and the German restaurant and store are treats in their own right.
  4. Moody’s Diner, back out on U.S. 1, is a classic and where I learned the difference between lowbush blueberries common to Maine and the highbush ones like I grow.
  5. If you can, pick a town and stay there for a few days. We’ve done B&Bs in Bath, Belfast, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, and Damariscotta – as well as weeklong conferences in Brunswick – and each town is different. We’d go back in a flash to Camden in the depth of February again, if the opportunity arises. Or if it’s in the summer, we definitely want to visit the lavender farm. You have to walk around to really enjoy each town and its people.
  6. The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockport emphasizes work by Americans, especially modernists – and its connection to the Wyeths and Alex Katz are strong. The museum even owns the Olson house, made famous in the painting Christina’s World.
  7. Bay Chamber concerts have been providing classical music each summer out of the old opera house in Rockport and related venues along Penobscot Bay. It began as the summer home of the famed Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and maintains high standards.
  8. Popham Beach in Phippsburg has to be the loveliest in the Maine. The state park is also the busiest. Get there early, if you can, before the line forms.
  9. The river herring also known as alewives are a regional treat, especially when they migrate each spring. You can see them up-close in Damariscotta … or dine on them, if you ask around.
  10. When the herring run, the osprey follow. The big birds rival eagles in their majesty.

Big things about a tiny honeybee


  1. It’s about 700,000 times smaller than the average human.
  2. It has 960,000 neurons, compared to 86 billion for a human.
  3. It has six articulated limbs, each with six segments.
  4. It has five eyes. Two of them are compound eyes made up of 6,900 lenses and cover about half of the face, These two mega-eyes sees the world differently. Red looks black, and the three primary colors are blue, green, and ultraviolet. It detects motion intensely but outlines are fuzzy and images, blocky.
  5. Its other three eyes detect only changes in light, as a warning of danger.
  6. Its four wings move at 11,400 strokes a minute.
  7. The wiggle dance tells other members of the colony where a nectar supply is within a five-mile radius of the hive.
  8. Of 20,000 species of bees, only four make honey.
  9. Around 80 percent of all American fruit, vegetable, and seed crops are pollinated by bees.
  10. Its straw-like tongue extends far beyond the jaw but has no taste buds. Instead, specialized hairs sense the chemicals that brush up against its exceptionally hairy body.

– from an article by Natasha Frost at Atlas Obscura

A bit of what I know about Cape Cod

The flexed arm of 15 Massachusetts towns sticking out into the Atlantic is a unique part of New England. You sense something’s different as soon as you cross over the Bourne or Sagamore bridges high above the Cape Cod Canal.

Here are some considerations.

  1. It has four different sections, and they can be confusing. The Upper Cape is what you encounter immediately over the bridge, while the Lower Cape, or Outer Cape, is what comprises the wrist and hand of the upraised arm. Got it? That always feels reversed to me. And in-between are the Mid-Cape and Lower Outer Cape. Usually added to that are “the islands,” Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, which you reach by ferry.
  2. The Cape is infused with a Colonial appearance, despite all the development since, or at least since the high Victorian era. And it’s definitely integrated with the ocean, on both sides. It often becomes overwhelmingly twee, though the thrift shops can be well worth investigating. Make sure your American flag has only 13 stars.
  3. What people usually think of as the Cape is its far outer tip – the glorious sand dunes and then flamboyant Provincetown. For me, the heart of it all has been the Portuguese Bakery in P’town. Cheap, blue collar, and distinctively tasty, until recently. Portuguese, after all, have long been the fishermen.
  4. The Cape is noted for its lighthouses – 18 still working, last I counted. Some of them are privately owned.
  5. Chatham, at the elbow, has a gazillion big seals – and a shark population that feeds on them. You can get close-up views of the seals at the town’s commercial fish dock.
  6. The sandy cliffs and beaches along the Atlantic run for miles, from Marconi station on up to P’town. You can just walk and walk and walk, maybe returning on the converted railroad trail up above.
  7. Traffic jams are a constant headache through summer, especially on weekends.
  8. The Cape pushes the ocean current further out to sea, meaning colder waters rise up in the void to its north. For swimmers, that means warmer waters on the Cape than we have in New Hampshire or Maine, beginning earlier and later into the season, too. By the way, the Plymouth Bay side is usually warmer and gentler.
  9. Bicycling is big.
  10. I suggest going in the shoulder season, before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. Good swimming can extend through September, if hurricanes cooperate. For the rest of the year, the weather can be weird. Remember, the Cape’s at the mercy of the ocean.